Useless Faith

It all stands or falls on this. There’s no middle ground. Jesus’ life isn’t simply an object lesson on living well.

The faith of many millions over centuries hinges on the resurrection that Christians celebrate on Easter Sunday (and throughout the year). If that one moment in history didn’t happen then our faith is a complete farce.

In a letter that he wrote to the church at Corinth a couple of thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul claims that if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then the whole Christian faith is useless and all the world’s Christians are poor suckers who should be pitied.

Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.

We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised.

For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.

If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

Paul’s saying that the idea of Jesus being a good teacher who said some interesting things isn’t an option. He’s telling us that the whole Christian belief rests on the crucifixion and resurrection being historical fact.

For many, that’s too much of a stretch to believe. How can it be true that someone could be brutally killed yet return to life three days later?

But imagine for a moment that it is true. That would mean that death doesn’t have to be the end because it has been beaten at its own game.

We’ve all been inspired by the lives of others, even knowing that they have died or will at some stage die. Once they’re gone the story of their life, their trials and triumphs continue to influence and motivate us. Surely the story of someone who even triumphed over death itself should give rise to even greater admiration and inspiration … but of course only if the story of them defeating death is true.

When we look at the evidence, the truth of the resurrection emerges very clearly as the best explanation. There is no other theory that even come close to accounting for the evidence. Therefore, there is solid historical grounds for the truth that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. – Matt Perman

In his article, Historical Evidence for the Resurrection, Matt Perman takes a brief look at some of the reasons that many people over the past two thousand years have believed that Jesus rising from the dead isn’t just a nice story, it’s fact.

I don’t have time for a useless faith.

I’m not prepared to believe fairy tales and so while many will scoff and think I must be crazy, I will say that I believe that death has lost its sting because God raised his son Jesus from the dead.

That’s what I’ll be celebrating today and for all eternity.

I pray that you’ll take time to consider the significance of the Easter story this Resurrection Sunday.

The good news is that God, out of His love, became man in Jesus Christ in order to pay the penalty for sinners. On the cross, Jesus died in the place of those who would come to believe in Him. He took upon Himself the very death that we deserve. The apostle Paul says “He was delivered up because of our sins.” But the apostle Paul goes on to say “He was raised to life because of our justification.” Paul is saying that Christ’s resurrection proves that His mission to conquer sin was successful. His resurrection proves that He is a Savior who is not only willing, but also able, to deliver us from the wrath of God that is coming on the day of judgment. The forgiveness that Jesus died and rose to provide is given to those who trust in Him for salvation and a happy future. – Matt Perman

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Betrayed

We’ve all been let down. People close to us have hurt us. We’ve been disappointed by those we thought we could depend upon.

Have you ever come to a moment of great need and found yourself alone? Have you had to face trials on your own while those who have previously pledged their friendship and loyalty have scattered?

That’s the kind of thing we remember on Good Friday. Imagine facing the following scenario on your own.

So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. – Mark 15:15-20

The most amazing thing in all of this is that amidst the torture, the pain, the horror of a barbaric death, Jesus was thinking of others. He even prayed for forgiveness for those who had caused his pain. I don’t know about you but I tend to get angry when someone causes me pain or discomfort. I can forgive them later, but at the time I can get pretty annoyed. Jesus was still in the middle of being tortured to death while he was offering forgiveness. Makes the ‘injustices’ I suffer seem fairly inconsequential.

Incredibly, he even promised forgiveness to a common criminal who was suffering the same fate that he was. There were two criminals being slaughtered alongside Jesus. One hurled insults. One asked to be remembered by Jesus. The one who asked to be remembered could see beyond the grave. He could see that death was not the end. He talked about Christ entering his kingdom. Jesus promised him a direct trip to paradise.

A lot of pictures that depict the life of Jesus show him as an otherworldly kind of figure, detached from the worries of our day to day lives. It’s good to remind ourselves that he knew what it was like to suffer pain and betrayal of the worst possible kind.

Even if you’re the kind of person who really can’t identify with Jesus, it may help you to remember that he can certainly identify with us and everything we’re facing.

The greatest news is that the betrayal and suffering of Good Friday was not the end. Sunday was coming; a day that would change our world forever.

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Well, that was weird

I was ushered into an incredibly bright room and removed my clothing … well most of it. The fact that the doctor that I had only just met was very good at creating friendly conversation didn’t make it feel any less awkward.

I lay on the examination table while he used even brighter lights to examine every millimetre of my skin. In his hand was a camera that he would hold above any spots or marks that he wanted to see more clearly. Those tiny spots would then be greatly magnified and displayed in living colour across his supersized flat screen TV.

Approximately, two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70, with more than 750,000 people treated for one or more non-melanoma skin cancers in Australia each year. Non-melanoma skin cancer is more common in men, with almost double the incidence compared to women. – Cancer Council

After asking me about a small, scaly piece of skin on my left forearm, the doctor grabbed his liquid nitrogen to freeze and destroy a small keratosis. It was harmless but left too long it could have developed into something very serious.

Apart from that one small issue I was given the all clear.

What a sense of relief.

Until that point I had no idea if I had anything lurking on my skin that could do me immense harm or even take my life, yet still I had never taken the time to get a skin cancer check. I always knew that I should but just didn’t.

I must admit that the weirdness of stripping down and having someone getting that close and personal was a bit of a demotivater. Even the thought that there could have been something, that left unattended, could kill me, failed to fully motivate me to get checked out. I didn’t want my body to be put under the bright, unflattering lights of the skin clinic.

It probably won’t surprise you that it was actually my wife who made the appointment for me. Of course she asked if that was OK but it was her initiative.

So here I am, a 53 year old Australian male who spends a fair bit of time cycling around with exposed skin, avoiding the opportunity to have someone examine me thoroughly. Talk about ridiculous. While I was busy avoiding my own embarrassment, there could have been something silently killing me.

I think many of us live our lives like that. We avoid the kind of examination that could save our lives.

There are often actions, thoughts and habits in our lives that we try to ignore because we don’t want to have to deal with what might really be happening. We don’t want to be put under the light even though that kind of examination could save our lives.

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. – John 3:20

I had a keratosis that could have developed into something worse but by being put under the harsh white light of the examination room, it’s now dealt with and I can get on with life. Am I prepared to put the rest of my life under that kind of scrutiny, knowing that I’ll be able to have someone deal with whatever they find or will I stubbornly continue with that constant, low-level sense that things are not quite right.

If skin cancer is left untreated too long, you’ll eventually know it’s there … and not in a good way. If those areas of our lives that don’t measure up are left without examination, they’ll eventually come to light … and certainly not in a good way.

For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. – Luke 8:17

The true story of Easter is that God not only wants to examine our lives but to deal with those issues that can bring our destruction. He has offered a way to be rid of whatever entangles us through the life, death and resurrection of His son Jesus.

Easter tells us that our past doesn’t have to determine our future.

What the Bible calls sin, our desire to live contrary to God’s direction for our lives, has consequences.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23

The free gift we are offered from God means that whatever our past holds, it can be dealt with completely through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And Easter isn’t just about cancelling the debt of sin, it’s about restoring relationship with the one who created the universe. Rather than seeing God as an old man waving his finger at us in disapproval, we get to know God as a friend through Jesus Christ.

That’s why we celebrate Easter. The debt that we’ve incurred can be completely cancelled. Our past can be over, our future can be secure and we can be directly connected to the one who would hold nothing back for us, not even His own son.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

After my initial misgivings, I felt secure letting a doctor shine a light on anything that needed to be treated because I know that he wants to deal with things that could cause me a great deal of harm.

This Easter, maybe it’s time to let God shine a light into your life, knowing that He wants to lovingly and completely deal with things that can cause us ultimate harm.

My prayer is that this will be an Easter that you can truly celebrate.

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Who is the Jesus of Easter?

This is a post that I repeat in the lead up to Easter each year. While most people around us are talking about rabbits and chocolate I think it’s worth taking a little time to look at the true story of Easter. The closest most of us get to the original Easter story is eating hot cross buns.

The bigger story is about the barbaric killing of a man who many millions of people throughout history believe defeated death and walked out of his tomb some days later. That’s extraordinary. Could such a story really be true or has the legend of this man, Jesus, grown over time?

Whether you’re a believer, apathetic or completely opposed to the person of Jesus, you’ve got to admit that his very existence has shaped much of the world. Whether you think that’s a good or bad thing, it’s simply fact.

With that in mind we really should decide for ourselves who Jesus is or was.

There’s an interesting exchange in the Bible about this very thing.

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Christ of God.”

I suppose that if we reset the scene in modern times it might look more like:

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

They replied, “Some say you’re a good man; others say a teacher; others say a religious leader; others say a misunderstood man; others say a fictional character; others say an irrelevant historical figure; others say a prophet; others say a bigot; and still others, that you’re a guy who gives us a couple of days off each Easter and at the end of December.”

Then comes the question that should be directed to each one of us.

“But what about you? Who do you say I am?”

Jesus was very wise in the way he asked his question. (After all, he is Jesus.) He says to his disciples, “Firstly let’s clear up what everyone else is saying about me.” It can be very easy for us to parrot someone else’s idea of who Jesus was or is. There are so many options that we can easily pick one that sounds reasonable to us.

But Jesus doesn’t give the disciples that option. After clearing up the range of things that others were saying, he focuses in on the individuals in front of him and says, “But What about you? Who do you say I am?”

I believe he’s doing the same today.

We need to be aware that there are many ideas of who Jesus is but in the end we need to answer that second question for ourselves.

Jesus looks at us all saying “But What about you? Who do you say I am?” Not who do your parents say I am; not who do your workmates say I am; not who does Richard Dawkins say I am; not who do your philosophy books say I am; not who does your pastor say I am; not who does your church say I am, but “Who do you say I am?”

Whether we say we believe the Bible’s idea of who Jesus is or not, we can’t afford to just grab someone else’s ideas on this one. We need to be open enough to have our views challenged. We need to look at how we came to hold the views we do and decide if that’s a good enough reason to think that way.

All the arguments about what people believe about Christians and their views are secondary and irrelevant until we decide what Jesus is about.

If we truly look at the evidence for ourselves and decide that Jesus was just a man we’ve got nothing to lose but if he was who the Bible claims and we don’t acknowledge it, our life could be at stake.

I’m siding with Peter on this one when he answered, “Who do you say I am?” with “The Christ of God.” Exactly what that means for me and the way I live my life is something that I will continue to grapple with for the rest of my life.

Who do you say Jesus is?

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Overcoming the Darkness

Sometimes, every fibre of your being tells you that the darkness has won. The darkness has snuffed out the light and there’s no way forward; no hope for the future.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

We’re just over a week into a brand new year. Over the past week or two, many people have been looking back and looking ahead. A number of people I know have been saying that 2016 was an “annus horribilis” and for some others, not just a horrible year but the worst they’ve experienced. They have high hopes for 2017 because it can’t possibly be as bad as 2016. The personal trials that we face are very real. Shattered relationships, lost loved ones, sickness, depression and more can threaten to crush and swallow us.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

When we look a little wider we see unspeakable atrocities across the world. Innocent people slaughtered, children being trafficked for the perverse desires of others, natural disasters, wars, violence and more. While anyone who has the opportunity to read this is probably living relatively comfortably, there are millions of people living in extreme poverty. Most are wondering where they might find their next meal. The numbers of those who are refugees, internally displaced, or seeking asylum is in the millions. Our world seems to be beyond help. How can there possibly be a way back from this?

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

I’ve seen some of the world’s injustices first hand over the past few years. I’ve sat in the homes of the poor and heard their heartbreaking stories. The nature of my work means that I am constantly immersed in stories of people who are powerless to change their circumstances and who are at the mercy of others who take advantage of them in the lowest possible ways. Constantly hearing such stories has brought me to tears several times. This world can be such a dark place.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The good news is, no matter how bad things get, no matter how dark it gets, the darkness will not overcome. Yes, it will feel like the darkness has won and that there is no way to turn things around, but there’s something bigger going on.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves that the darkness is no surprise to God. He hasn’t been caught off guard. He is still in charge, and He is still sovereign. Even before time began, even before the darkness began to descend, God had a plan to shatter the darkness with light … light so powerful that it can never be put out. That light is God Himself in the person of Jesus.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. – John 1:1-13

As you start this year, a year that will no doubt bring a mixture of joy and disappointment, remind yourself that no matter how dark it may seem to be, you don’t have to fight the darkness alone. In those moments look for the light that shines in the darkness. It may seem faint at times but it’s there.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is an updated post, first published in January 2016.

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