Beyond the Grave: Is It Real?

Beyond the Grave: Is It Real?

My Brother David D. Flowers recently finished posting a series titled “Heaven to Earth” in which he discusses the importance of the resurrection of jesus.  I think David offers some good substance, but as I scan the landscape of Christian blogging and books, I am surprised at how little we speak of resurrection.  In all our talk of “church” and “culture”, there seems to be little discussion (and far less understanding) about the resurrection from the dead.

Our church recently finished a chapter by chapter study of 1 Corinthians.  When I got to chapter 15, I was compelled to spend 3 weeks in this one chapter.  The power of Paul’s words as he discuses the meaning and practical everyday application of Jesus’ resurrection, made a huge impact on my own life.   Over the coming weeks, I want to share just a small portion of our study and answer the question that confronted Paul, “Is There Life Beyond the Grave?”

In thinking about the possibility of a future life, I am struck by the fact that in every culture, in every age, there is legend, myth, and story to answer the question, “is there life beyond the grave?”  One famous example is Mary Todd Lincoln.  When confronted with the tragic assassination of her husband at the hands of John Wilkes Booth, Mrs. Lincoln turned to seances in search of hope. While some may think Mrs. Lincoln crazy for her search, she is not so different from any of us.   In our own way, each of us seeks to answer this question and how we answer it will have consequence on the way we live our life today?   This short video offers an excellent contrast among different religions and how the Christian answers the question of life beyond.

Death is real?  Our need for hope is real?  There must be an answer?  Followers of jesus recognize that the answer begins with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Our view of life beyond the grave is quite different from any other religion, but is it true?   Can we really believe in a Jesus who raised from the dead?  We are not the first to ask this question.

Just a short 20 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, there were those in the church at Corinth who began to question if this event really happened.  And even if it didn’t happen, would it really matter?

Is belief in the resurrection of Jesus necessary?

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church and said, “yes!

1 Cor. 15:1-11 (ESV)
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain.

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. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.

Paul was convinced that the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead was of primary importance to his preaching of the Gospel.  It was the driving force and energy behind his every action and justification for his deep sacrifice.

Paul would later instruct the Church in Rome, that the resurrection is the only hope for the world that we will be saved from sin.

Romans. 10:8b-10 (ESV)
…The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.

So, “is there life beyond the grave?”  Yes!  There is a life beyond life and, as a follower of Jesus, I belive the only hope of entering eternal joy is through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

But is that really something that the modern/enlightened/scientific mind can embrace?  I will answer that question in my next post.

Remembering the MIssio Dei

Remembering the MIssio Dei

In observing the Christian landscape of popular blogs and books, I am convinced we have lost sight of God’s mission. I watch with concern as Christians post videos that are intended to mock the music and the traditions of other Christians they find socially “embarrassing.”

In an effort to prove to the “Lost” that Christians can be “cool,” some folks have joined hands with the world to mock our brothers and sisters in Christ.  To make themselves relevant, some Christians find it necessary to make the traditions of other Christ-followers the subject of patronizing jokes.

Somewhere along the way, we have lost sight of the real spiritual battle we face.

Watch this video as some of the members of the “Earth First” religion worship the trees in their forest Sanctuary.  This is the face of God’s lost children who need to know Jesus.

There are no jokes here.

I didn’t create this video to ridicule these very sincere people. I share it as a reminder to my fellow-believers that we must regain focus on the Gospel. Even in our technology-driven world, there are people who put the earth first–people who are lost and who need a savior.

We have spent far too much time on petty issues and fighting against our own Family.  We don’t need any more churches with slogans like, “This is not your Grandparent’s church.”  Church is not about being hip, cool, attractive, or innovative.  We need to turn out attention to things more important than tradition and ritual.

My advice to young church planters is to focus on the reality of sin, the desperate need for forgiveness, and practicing the love of Jesus Christ in your community.

How many more souls will be lost before we put first the mission of salvation?

Romans 1:16–20 (NLT)

16 For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 17 This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” 18 But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

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Top 5 Systematic Theology Books

Top 5 Systematic Theology Books

From the start, you need to know that I like to read from a diversity of theologians because good theology is about investigation not indoctrination.  Reading theologians from different traditions helps me better compare and contrast my own thinking with the Scripture; the ultimate book of theology.   So all that to say, the following selection represents thinkers who are, for the most part, Orthodox in their theology, but not all agree on every issue of importance.

Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine by Wayne Grudem

This is one of the best single-volume theologies integrating solid exegesis, practical application, and plenty of helpful indices. Grudem’s volume is weak on the Holy Spirit, but he has a good treatment of creation and a solid ecclesiology. Grudem’s theology is compatible with the baptistic tradition and written with a high view of Scripture’s authority for the life of the believer.  His work has a devotional quality, ending chapters with selected hymns, and his tone is one of genuine love for God and for people.

BIO: Wayne Grudem, research professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, received his A.B. from Harvard, M.Div. and honorary D.D. from Westminster Seminary-Philadelphia, and Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. He is a board member of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a past president of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the author of twenty books. He was the general editor of the ESV Study Bible, and is a member of the Translation Oversight Committee for the English Standard Version Bible.

Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof

In this single volume, Berkhof presents a strongly Reformed-Presbyterian view of the Doctrines of God, Man, the Person and Work of Christ, the Application of the Work of Redemption, the Church and the Means of Grace, and the Last Things. His treatment of the Trinity is thorough but his doctrine of God is less complete. Berkhof’s chapter on Last-Things presents the classic reformed view of Amillennialism while presenting argument against both Historic and Dispensational Premillennialism. If you are looking to undertand Dispensationalism from a positive perspective, then you will need to read  “Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth” by Charles C. Ryrie.

BIO: Berkhof graduated from Calvin Theological Seminary in 1900 and accepted the call to be the pastor of the Allendale, Michigan First Christian Reformed Church. In 1902 he went to Princeton Theological Seminary for two years earning a B.D. degree. In 1906 he was appointed to the faculty of Calvin Theological Seminary. He assumed the presidency of the seminary in 1931,

Systematic Theology in 3 Volumes by Thomas C. Oden

  1. Volume One: The Living God
  2. Volume Two: The Word of Life
  3. Volume Three: Life in the Spirit

This three volume set is a wonderful expression of Wesleyan theology, but what I like best is the organization of the series.  Each volume is a very thorough treatment and interacts with  the Early Church Fathers, Medieval theologians, Contemporary thinkers, and the European Reformers. Most readers will find value in Oden’s discussions of Free Will and the Holy Spirit.

BIO: Thomas Clark Oden is an American United Methodist theologian. He is the Henry Anson Buttz Professor of Theology and Ethics at Drew University in New Jersey. He was born in Altus, Oklahoma. He has a B.A. degree from the University of Oklahoma (1953), a B.D from Southern Methodist University (1956), an M.A. from Yale University (1958), and a Ph.D. from Yale University (1960).

God, Revelation and Authority (6 Volumes) by Carl F. H. Henry

Without equal, this is my favorite multi-volume systematic theology.  I love Henry’s clarity of thought along with his astute observations regarding the interplay between culture, reason, philosophy, and theology. Considered the primary architect of American Evangelicalism, his theology is important to every Christian who wants to understand the makeup of the contemporary church. Henry’s work also provides a vigorous critique of Barth’s Dogmatics (see below) that you need to read.

BIO: Carl F.H. Henry is widely recognized as a foremost thinker, educator, author, and theologian. He holds the ThD from Northern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the PhD from Boston University. He was the founding editor of Christianity Today, the Chairman of the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin in 1966, and the Program Chairman for the Jerusalem Conference on Biblical Prophecy in 1970. He is the author of some thirty-five volumes, a number of which have had a decisive influence on the shape of Christianity in America, including The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1948), Evangelicals at the Brink of Crisis (1967), and the monumental six-volume work God, Revelation, and Authority (1976-1983). In addition, he has taught and lectured around the world at major universities on every continent.

Church Dogmatics (14 Volumes) by Karl Barth

Barth’s influence on modern theology is almost without equal and so this work is an important primary source for every theologian. While I appreciate some of Barth’s insight, his theology eventually led him to embrace the heresy of Universlaism.   Despite his failure to remain orthodox, Barth’s work  should be standard reading in every Seminary.

If you are a bit overwhelmed by Barth’s Church Dogmatics, and at 9,233 pages who isn’t, you may find these options helpful:

  1. Dogmatics in Outline by Karl Barth: Barth never intended this as a short-cut to his Dogmatics, but in the age of Cliff-notes, it is the best thing you will find.
  2. Christian Theology by Millard J. Erickson: In addition to Henry’s theology mentioned above, this is another solid single-volume theology that is sometimes Calvinist, but offers regular interaction with Barth from an Evangelical perspective.
  3. My Own Analysis: Some time ago I spent an entire year reading through Barth and interacting with his theology on my blog.  These posts may be of some help in understanding his writing.

BIO: Karl Barth was a Swiss Reformed theologian. Barth is often regarded as the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century. His influence expanded well beyond the academic realm to mainstream culture, leading him to be featured on the cover of Time on April 20, 1962. Beginning with his experience as a pastor, Barth rejected his training in the predominant liberal theology typical of 19th-century European Protestantism as well conservative Christian fundamentalism. Instead he embarked on a new theological path initially called dialectical theology, due to its stress on the paradoxical nature of divine truth (e.g., God’s relationship to humanity embodies both grace and judgment). 

Substance Is Everything At Safeway

Substance Is Everything At Safeway

“We must alter our lives in order to alter our hearts,

for it is impossible to live one way and pray another.”

-William Law

As a bi-vocational church planter, I had the opportunity to clean toilets and stock the dairy section at Safeway.  During one of our employee orientation meetings, I learned that back in the 1970’s, Safeway spent millions of dollars trying to buy their image, but when the customers showed up to the store, they realized that the TV image was not the in-store reality. Eventually Safeway learned that it was more profitable to invest in training their employees to have good customer service, rather then waste millions in advertising something they did not really offer.

Apparently, not everyone learned the lesson as quickly as Safeway. In the 1980’s Cannon used Tennis star Andre Aggasi to promote its Rebel line of cameras with the slogan, “Image is Everything”. Sure it was a cute play on words, but the slogan betrayed the same old attitude that image is more important than substance.

I think the church is finally starting to realize that we cannot buy our image, or use marketing campaigns to create our reality. Because we have bought into the idea that image is everything, many churches have spent a lot of money crafting a false image of perfection. Then when people come to our churches they are surprised to find that the people are not perfect. Christians have hurts, they have fears, they have struggles, and yes they have sin too. Somewhere along the way we forgot that Substance is more important than image. Honesty about our lives, integrity from our leaders, and transparency about our struggles is what the world needs to see from God’s people.

So lets stop trying to craft an image and start investing in our people. Then, when someone comes in search of Jesus, they will find something of substance they can hold onto. Let those who come to us in search of meaning find the power of open lives.

This post is featured in my book, “More Than Cake” as one of the 52 team devotionals that take on issues of church, culture, and theology in a way that will engage your team in a full-orbed discussion of missional community. Get copies today for every member of your team!
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Who Can I Trust?

Sermon Outline based on Matthew 5:33-37

1. “Who Can I Trust?”… The dangers of breaking your word.

Matthew 5:33-37  “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil. (see also James 5:12)

  • The leaders who are most untrusting, are seldom worth trusting. (Matt. 23:16–22)
  • A broken promise corrupts community

2. “Who Can I Trust?”… It begins by looking in the mirror.

  • Make your word worthy of trust.

Acts 5:1-11 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him. 7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.

  • Don’t fear the consequences; trust in the Lord.
  • Don’t follow your heart.

Ecclesiastes 5:1–7 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. To draw near to listen is better than to offer the sacrifice of fools, for they do not know that they are doing evil. 2 Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. 3 For a dream comes with much business, and a fool’s voice with many words. 4 When you vow a vow to God, do not delay paying it, for he has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you vow. 5 It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. 6 Let not your mouth lead you into sin, and do not say before the messenger that it was a mistake. Why should God be angry at your voice and destroy the work of your hands? 7 For when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear.

  • If you speak it; do it!
  • You cannot “mean well” unless you “do well”.
  • Your actions will always both define & lead your heart.

3. “Who Can I Trust?”… It begins by looking toward eternity

Psalms 56:9b-13 This I know, that God is for me.10 In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, 11 in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? 12 I must perform my vows to you, O God; I will render thank offerings to you 13 For you have delivered my soul from death, yes, my feet from falling that I may walk before God in the light of life.

  • The World can take your wealth, but it cannot take your integrity before God.
  • Model your life after the God who never lies.
  • Your word is your worship.

Digging Deeper Study Notes: “The Integrity Of Your Word”

GETTING STARTED

Imagine you are looking at a beautiful mansion full of lavish comforts… the home of your dreams!  Now your friend tells you, I am giving you this house absolutely free and you can move in immediately.  You gather your family together and approach the mansion, only to see a notice taped to door, “This building has been condemned by the State of California.” Would you move in and risk the life of your family?

Compare this to the words we use everyday, why does the integrity of our words matter to God?

The Old Testament allowed for oath taking, or vows, as a means of affirming one’s resolve to do something. By Jesus’ day, however, oaths were being used selfishly to avoid commitment.  In light of Joe’s sermon, read again Matthew 5:33–37. What is Jesus’ point about truth-telling?

DIGGING IN

Later in Jesus’ ministry he confronted the Pharisees about the oaths they were taking. Read Matt. 23:16–22. What was Jesus’ warning to these religious leaders to avoid?

Read the following passages about oaths and discuss their importance for keeping your word:

  1. Exodus 20:7
  2. Leviticus 19:12
  3. Numbers 30:2
  4. Deut. 23:21–23
  5. Ecclesiastes 5:1–7
  6. James 5:12

TAKING IT HOME

1.      Have you made an oath to someone in the past? Have you kept your word or did you find a way to avoid fulfilling your promise? What do should you do now to make it right?

2.      In light of the Scripture, what will you do in the future when it comes to making promises?

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