Posts Tagged ‘belief’


The Prophet’s Story

The story begins with Adam and Eve, who listened to the voice of the devil instead of God. They disobeyed, and mankind’s perfect relationship with God was broken.

They became the first to experience sin and the death sin causes. They tried to hide themselves with tree leaves to cover their shame, but God was not pleased with these coverings. He covered them instead with animal skin garments. God Himself made the first animal sacrifice to cover their shame.

Adam and Eve had two children: Cain and Abel. Cain made an offering to God from the food he had grown while Abel offered an animal sacrifice—a blood sacrifice.

God accepted Abel’s sacrifice but not Cain’s. Why? Because sin demands death, separates us from God, and must be paid for . . . with life. In Cain’s jealousy, he killed Abel and led a large portion of humanity down a dark path.

Hundreds of years later, things had gotten so bad that God said there was no one on earth that deserved to live . . . no one except Noah and his family. God called Noah to build a boat—a big one—and in doing so preach this message: Judgment for sin is coming, and there is only one way to escape and receive the mercy of God—the ark.

They laughed and ridiculed Noah until rain came from the sky and the water burst up from the deep while the people were unprepared. The flood killed every person and animal, and the world perished for their sins. Only Noah, his family, and the animals God had brought to the ark were saved.

Then came Abraham, the Father of Faith. God told him to take his son and sacrifice him on a mountain. Abraham was disturbed by this command, but he obeyed God. He proved his faith with action and took his son to Mount Moriah. But just as Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, God stopped him and provided an animal to take his son’s place. The animal redeemed, replaced, bought back his son—blood for blood, life for life.

Four hundred years passed and God sent Moses to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, didn’t like this, so God punished him with ten plagues. For the final plague, God sent an Angel of Death to kill the firstborn son of every household. But there was a way out. The people were commanded to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on the doorpost of the house. If the Angel of Death saw the blood, he knew the children inside had been redeemed by sacrifice. Whether Jew or Egyptian, slave or freeman, if they obeyed the command of God, their child would be saved. If not . . . their child would not be saved. That night it happened just as Moses prophesied and a great weeping went up all over Egypt in any household that had refused God’s mercy by sacrifice.

Later, Moses gave the people the Torah in which God prescribed a ritual for covering the sins of the people. The offender brought an animal sacrifice to the priest, laid his hands on its head symbolizing the way his own sin and shame was transferred to the animal. Then the animal was sacrificed—its blood spilled out—and the offender’s sin was covered. King David and the prophets followed the Torah given by Moses, but they wondered, “Can the blood of animals really cover the sins of a man, or are they signs and symbols pointing to the future?”

David prophesied a Coming One, a King, a Messiah, a descendant of King David who would rule and reign in power, yet be a humble man with a heart of compassion. This Messiah would be sinless, perfect, blameless, innocent. He would suffer and die and be a worthy sacrifice. He would become “the Great Sacrifice.” Jesus was born in a barn because nobody had room for him. Born of a virgin, born pure. A royal, but poor, descendent of King David. Poor country shepherds and wealthy wise men from the East came to honor the child and testify that He was indeed the Coming One, the Messiah, whom the Scriptures had promised.

Jesus preached love, truth, peace, humility. He was a humble carpenter, but brilliant philosopher. He offended religious hypocrites who cared about rituals more than loving God, but He was loved by the poor, the humble, the repentant, the sinner. He healed the deaf, blind, deformed, and demon possessed. He even raised dead men back to life again. A homeless man, a wandering teacher, a revolutionary calling Lovers of God to live full lives. Jesus even called God His “Father,” and showed mankind that “the All Powerful” loves you like a Daddy.

God wanted to relate to humans as His children, but there was a problem. They were still sinful and God is Holy! Man’s sin, starting with Adam, had separated the people from their God, and the Messiah knew what He had to do to bring them back.

John the Baptist prophesied of Jesus saying, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” Jesus was the Messiah, the Chosen One—chosen to become the Great Sacrifice. Having never sinned, He was holy, pure, perfect, and worthy to pay the price for sin. The innocent one in exchange for the guilty. The Holy One in exchange for sinful people. He did this for His Father to pay the price for mankind’s sin, to free them from their slavery to sin, and to restore to them what Adam had lost—a perfect relationship with God. Jesus died on the cross, not because of the Jews, nor the Romans, but by the hand of God, his Father. God sacrificed Jesus to fulfill what was written by the prophets—that He would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, yours and mine. But He didn’t stop there. Three days later God raised Jesus, the Messiah, from the dead as a promise to those who believe in Him, that they too will rise again to eternal life. After this, Jesus promised his disciples that He would return again, but this time as Judge and King!

The Messiah is God’s gift to mankind so they would not die in their sins and be separated from God. By receiving Jesus’ sacrifice they could be restored back into a perfect relationship with Him. But like any gift, it’s not yours until you take it.

“I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am He.”  (John 8:24 NRSV)

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A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

The short book entitled “A Grief Observed” by C.S. Lewis relates how the author joined the human race when his wife and spirited poet, Joy Gresham, died of cancer. Lewis, the Oxford professor whose Christian apologetics make it seem like he’s got an answer for everything, experienced crushing doubt for the first time during her illness and after his wife’s tragic death. A Grief Observed contains meaningful reflections on that period: “Your bid–for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity–will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high,” Lewis writes. “Nothing will shake a man–or at any rate a man like me–out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.”

This is the book that inspired the film Shadowlands but it is more wrenching, more revelatory, and more real than the movie. It is a beautiful and unflinchingly honest record of how even a stalwart believer can lose all sense of meaning in the universe, and how he can gradually regain his bearings.

Although this book is non-fiction it is written like the author of so many famous books of fiction can write.  Yet, from a very personal standpoint, Lewis comes to grips with the reality of terminal illness.  It is always from the viewpoint of “this can’t be happening to me!”  He goes through stages of denial, first of the illness itself, and second of the untimely death of his wife.  Sharing his feelings with her son was very hard for Lewis.  Lewis and Joy’s son Douglas became very close.  The relationship started because he enjoyed reading Lewis’ classics.  Douglas truly admired and respected Lewis. Lewis was always the professor and statesman, and always had that stiff upper lip of the Englishman.  But when it came down to facing his feelings, Lewis was the first to really get in touch with them.  His wife, Joy, helped him get through the times of unknowing before she died.  Lewis and Douglas grew very fond of each other and mourned the loss of Joy together, arm in arm.

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Joy was very warm and caring toward him during her therapy and temporary recovery.  She insisted on spending as much time with Lewis as possible.  They basically did everything together.  What is really touching about this story is what became of their marriage, and the reason why they married in the first place.

From the first meeting of Lewis, Joy Gresham, and her son Douglas, the beginning of their lasting friendship, through the courtship that took many years, A Grief Observed blends the two worlds or cultures of American values and those of the British.  The book brings you into the heart of Lewis like no other book he had written.  When you finish this book, your heart will be warmed and your mind will rest assured of the possibility of loving someone so deeply as to suffer more than the one who is sick.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is going through the illness of a loved one, especially if he or she has been diagnosed as terminal.

 

Kerygma

Kerygma

What is kerygma and what does it mean?

During the last seven weeks of the Communication in Ministry course I am taking, we are concentrating on preaching or delivering sermons or messages to our congregations.  We are studying structuring sermons, how to select our passages and how to interpret the biblical passage. We are learning how to relate the interpretation of the biblical passage to our “audience.” We are learning all the ways and means to creating a great sermon.

This brings me to the word kerygma. Dictionary.com gives the definition of kerygma as “the preaching of the gospel of Christ, especially in the manner of the early church, and the content or message of such preaching.”

Kerygma is the Greek word κήρυγμα kérugma, translated proclamation or preaching. Kergyma is the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in spoken words, or even viewed in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. It is the proclamation of Jesus redemptive work. Proclamation was usually followed by teaching and instruction in the elements of the faith, or the reading of a Creed. What Jesus did and taught in His ministry was included within the basic proclamation. Ok, so lets break this definition down. 

1. Kerygma is the preaching of the Gospel.

2. Kerygma is preaching in the manner of the early church.

3. Kerygma has to do with the content or message of what is being preached.

What is the Gospel? It is the Good News of the life, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. The Gospel includes the facts of Jesus’ incarnation as the Word. It includes the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. It includes the fact that Jesus was begotten of the Father and not a creature that the Father made. Jesus is in the Father as the Father is in Him. It includes the fact that salvation from sin, sickness, death, and the devil is only through Jesus the Messiah. It includes the fact that we are made right with God, declared righteous because of the righteousness of Jesus the Messiah. The Gospel is Good News!

2. What was the manner of preaching in the early church? The book of Acts clearly demonstrates that the early church preached the Gospel focusing on Jesus Christ; on repentance, faith, baptism and the forgiveness of sins, especially that salvation is through Jesus alone. The early church preached Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The reason is that the Apostles were witnesses to the life, ministry, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. The early church preached what they heard from Jesus, the Apostles, and what they witnessed – it is the Gospel.

3. What is the content or message of what was being preached by the early church? When looking into the book of Acts we see:

  • All of the messages mention the doctrine of God.
  • All of the messages mention Jesus the Messiah.
  • Seven messages mention Jesus’ death.
  • Seven messages mention His resurrection.
  • Four messages declare that Jesus is now exalted in heaven at the right hand of the Father.
  • Four messages mention the giving of the Holy Spirit.
  • Seven message mention the forgiveness of sins.
  • Five messages mention repentance.
  • Three messages mention the need for faith.
  • Five messages mention Scripture.
  • None of the messages use the word Kingdom, because the Kingdom of God was brought to the earth in Jesus the Messiah.

Therefore, the content or the message preached by the early church included everything mentioned above. The church today must preach the Gospel like the early church. The early church preached the Gospel within the context of her audience, whether Jew or Gentile, or whether it was in Palestine or Athens, Rome or Crete. The kerygma was the same. They preached and taught the Gospel. The early church preached and taught the Gospel as it was given to them by the Apostles. The kerygma is the Apostolic Gospel message. The Church should be preaching the Gospel the same way the Apostles preached it: in the wisdom and power of God.

St. Paul gives an example of the kerygma:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared also to me.” 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 (ESV)

In conclusion, based upon the Four Gospels and Acts, there are seven elements to the ancient kerygma of the Church:

1. God loves you and seeks after you.
2. Sin will destroy you.
3. Jesus Christ died to save you.
4. Repent and believe the Gospel.
5. Be Baptized – receive the Holy Spirit.
6. Abide in Christ and His Body the Church.
7. Go make disciples.

Lastly, there are four elements (Acts 2:42) to living the Christian life revolving around the kerygma:

1. The Apostles’ Teaching – The Church steadfastly went on in the study of ancient Scripture and the sacred teachings of the Faith given them by the Apostles.
2. The Fellowship – They were daily interacting within Christ’s Body the Church, frequently gathering for worship, and other gatherings as the Body of Christ.
3. The Breaking of the Bread – This is another way of saying that they faithfully received Holy Communion, the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist and, by extension,  all the Sacraments.
4. The Prayers – Using forms of prayers, in both the personal and community contexts.

Westminster

The Westminster Creed

I believe man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever;
I believe God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being,
wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth;

I believe there is but one true and living God;
that there are three persons in the Godhead:
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost;
and that these three are one God,
the same in substance, equal in power and glory;

I believe God has foreordained whatever comes to pass;
that God made all things of nothing,
by the word of His power, in the space of six days, and all very good;
and that God preserves and governs all His creatures and all their actions.

I believe our first parents, though created in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness,
sinned against God, by eating the forbidden fruit;
and that their fall brought mankind into an estate of sin and misery;

I believe God determined, out of His mere good pleasure,
to deliver His elect out of the estate of sin and misery,
and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer;
I believe the only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ,
Who, being the eternal Son of God, became man,
and so was, and continues to be,
God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever;

I believe Christ, as our Redeemer,
executes the office of a prophet, of a priest, and of a king.

I believe Christ as our Redeemer underwent the miseries of this life,
the wrath of God, the cursed death of the cross, and burial;
He rose again from the dead on the third day, ascended up into heaven,
sits at the right hand of God, the Father,
and is coming to judge the world at the last day.

I believe we are made partakers of the redemption purchased by Christ,
by the effectual application of it to us by his Holy Spirit;

I believe God requires of us faith in Jesus Christ,
and repentance unto life to escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin;

I believe by His free grace we are effectually called, justified, and sanctified,
and gathered into the visible church, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation;

I believe that we also are given in this life such accompanying benefits
as assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost,
increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end;
that at death, we are made perfect in holiness, and immediately pass into glory;
and our bodies, being still united in Christ, rest in their graves, till the resurrection;
and at the resurrection, we shall be raised up in glory,
we shall openly be acknowledged and acquitted in the day of judgment,
and made perfectly blessed in the full enjoying of God to all eternity.

~ adapted from the 17th century Westminster Shorter Catechism

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Thoughts after Resurrection Sunday: Jesus Christ, the Power of God

Remember how the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate approved a military guard for a cemetery plot and how they took pains to seal the stone to permanently close the tomb of Jesus? That was Pilate’s final word to Jesus, whom he had interrogated earlier that day. During that trial, Pilate and Jesus touched the third rail of worldly politics: Power. Pilate denied that power must be based on truth. Power was his to wield as he decided.

Jesus insisted on the primacy of Truth and that there was only one Power in the world: God’s. All other power was either delegated or allowed until the time of judgment, which rested in the hands of no magistrate, no emperor, no Supreme Court, but in God Almighty. Pilate had no power over Jesus that had not been given to him. And Pilate had no power over the Tomb-although he thought otherwise.

Those wielding power may mistakenly forget about the primacy of truth. When Jesus was questioned by Caiaphas about his teachings, he said, “Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me, what I said to them; they know what I said.” A soldier struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the High Priest?” The soldier used power, trying to coerce Jesus, who had noted that truth could be found in the testimony of others about him.
Jesus refused to give in, saying, “If I have spoken wrongly, bear witness to the wrong, but if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” What could the soldier say in response? We are not told. Did Jesus’ penetrating presence and words pierce the soldier’s conscience?

When a truth is spoken to the consciences of those in power, one or the other must give way. Power must yield or truth must be silenced. Classic examples of this confrontation are the peaceful civil rights protests in the U.S. Power at first may seem to win the day-the state may whip, beat, imprison protesters and “restore order” and silence. But if the protesters speak truth to a power that is built on falsehood, they have the power of truth behind them. In the case of civil rights, the broader national conscience had to face the racism for what it was.

Many were willing to suffer to confront racism. In history, the state often does not back down and attempts to silence those who are dissident. It may even knowingly punish the innocent, as did Pilate.

In our current cultural crisis, those who speak truth to power about human life in the womb, the nature of marriage, and religious conscience are often targeted for silencing. Yet we, unlike the state, cannot use coercion in this conflict. Yes, there is power to be had in speaking the truth, just not in the way worldly men prefer to use it, like James and John who wanted to sit on thrones with Jesus. The power of Christians only comes through the Cross, through the willingness to suffer for the truth-and live according to it.

The power that raised Jesus was not meant as an assault on the guarding soldiers. They and the sealed stone were not the point. God did not unseal a tombstone to prove that he could empty a tomb. No, Jesus was raised because of a divine truth about the Incarnate Son of God: “It was not possible for him to be held by death.” (Acts 2:24)
Power comes and goes. Truth is truth and stands forever. It cannot remain suppressed. Even the stones will cry out. Yes, stones, and even tombstones. “Suffered under Pontius Pilate” was never the end of the story.

The Gospel truth is that Jesus’ Name is above every name, to which every knee will bow, even Pilate’s.

~  James M. Kushiner, Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

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View the Story

 

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Perhaps during some late November, you have given or received an Advent calendar. Chances are, it was decorated with a religious picture and twenty-five perforated windows for each day in the month of December. When the window was opened, you could read a Bible verse or religious thought for that day. In more expensive calendars, a small piece of chocolate might be found. Parents in particular find that Advent calendars can help children “wait” during the interminable 24 days preceding Christmas, by giving them a little treat each day in December.

The word Advent comes from the Latin word adventus, which means coming. Christians celebrate the four weeks before Christmas as a time to reflect on and anticipate the “coming” of Christ at Christmas as well as the “coming” of Christ at the end of time. Preparing for the birth of Christ is a reminder of God’s great love for us—a love so vast that Christ lived and died as one of us. Preparing for the final coming of Christ is a reminder of the glory and grandeur that we will one day share in the Kingdom of God.

Customarily in the Christian tradition, the focus has been on these two “comings” of Christ. However, St. Bernard in the 11th Century identified a “third coming” that Advent leads us to await—the coming of Christ in our own soul. While the birth of Christ and the second coming of Christ are important to Christians, we must all still move through this earthly life on a day-to-day basis with Christ in our hearts.

Keeping a watchful Advent reminds us that we do not tread these days in isolation. We can live in expectation of the movement of Christ in and through every moment of those days. Even though we are frequently distracted and diverted from attention to this movement within us, the season of Advent reminds us to turn inward yet again and seek God, the Holy Spirit within us.

Advent is a time to notice the longing that runs through the silent crevices in our souls. It helps us learn to wait in patience for that longing to be filled rather than hiding it or numbing it by shuffling through the mall, standing in front of the open refrigerator, or sitting stone-like in front of the television. Advent is also a time to embrace silence and stillness in order to see more clearly and hear more keenly the movement of the Spirit of God. Finally, Advent is a time to rejoice with hope and expectation that what we say we believe will, in fact, be revealed in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of our lives.