Archive for March, 2012

Easter, Miracles and the Modern World

March 28, 2012

Title: Easter, Miracles and the Modern World

Text: Genesis 1:1, Mark 16:6-7, John 11:25

Time: March 17th, 2012

 

The big problem today people have with the Easter resurrection of Jesus Christ is it’s a supernatural miracle. And people today are more and more questions whether miracles are possible. “Did the dead Jesus Christ really rise from the grave?” “Do you mean to say that Jesus died and three days later rose to life again?” “Are you saying that somebody, Jesus, was killed, buried in a tomb, and three days later came back to life?” More and more people are doubting or disbelieving the Christian Easter event – that Jesus rose from the dead. What’s even more shocking is to find out that more and more church leaders and pastors are doubting the resurrection, even though they “go along” with the story on Easter Sunday, even delivering sermons about the symbolic power of the resurrection. They preach the resurrection as metaphor or symbol for inspirational purposes, such as, “What rose on that Easter morning so long ago? It was the faith that rose in the hearts of the disciples! Let us not preoccupy ourselves with the physical body of Jesus as the real resurrection.” Even more and more Christians are starting to view the resurrection of Christ as more symbolic than actual; you’ll hear that perspective often today. But why is it that we have such a hard time with the miracle of resurrection today, whereas in times past, people seemingly had no problem believing in such a thing? The answer is, today we’ve convinced ourselves that the only thing that exists — or the principle reality — is nature itself. We’ve been taught in science classes that natural laws govern everything that exists, everything that is real. Scientists make the assumption for practical purposes that everything has a natural explanation. Now while this assumption is good for scientific investigation because it motivates us to keep searching for answers and rational explanations, the assumption itself is pure philosophy. Can anyone actually prove that everything is governed by natural laws? Can it be demonstrated that nothing is outside of the laws of nature? No. It’s an assumption that we moderns assume for practical purposes, but it’s in no way proven. It’s this natural assumption that makes it difficult for many people to believe in the miracles of Christianity, particularly the Easter miracle of resurrection. We don’t realize it, but this natural assumption is reinforced in modern society in many ways every day. Like I said before, schoolchildren are taught it from their earliest days in school. It’s basically assumed in colleges and universities. Almost all science books and presentations assume it. The leading educational spokesmen and the chief scientific representatives all assume it. Even the government operates on the natural assumption that the scientific laws govern everything. So we are taught and conditioned from the beginning the natural assumption, that everything is governed by invisible, immutable laws, scientific laws. But when we read the Bible or come to church we are taught something entirely different – not everything is governed by the laws of nature, and that supernatural miracles are possible. Here is the conflict. I’d like to speak to this conflict and say a few things about it as we think about the resurrection of Jesus this Easter season. (more…)

Why Easter Still Matters

March 28, 2012

Title: What Easter Still Matters

Text: Ephesians 2:12, Matthew 28:5, John 3:16

Time: March 21st, 2012

 

It’s no new news to say we live in a secular society today. Everybody knows that our modern world has nearly swept away any public expression of God, except for the few large, visible church buildings that dot the landscape. No, we in modern times have organized ourselves around secular interests – the economy, politics, careers, education, health, money and material things, for example. But the funny thing is we still have a past history of faith in God, and the remnants of that faith provide the occasion for holidays such as Christmas and Easter. So even in our worldly, secular society, we remember spiritual events a few times a year, because they are on our calendar and because it’s tradition. But we don’t realize that these spiritual remembrances aren’t just occasions of feel-good nostalgia, they are vitally important for society whether we realize it or not. Because we are in the Easter season, and Easter is just a few weeks away, I’ll focus on explaining why this annual holiday is so very important for society and why it matters so much, still today. It’s important, for one, because it reminds everyone to think about a most fundamental question — a question philosophers and thinkers have pondered for ages – what happens at death? Now modern science can tell us much about many things, but on the topic of death it can’t tell us for very much at all. Sure, science can tell us what happens to the physical body, including the brain, but it can’t tell us what happens in any other way. More importantly, it can’t answer the real question people ask about death – do we survive it in some sense, consciously, as soul or spirit? Now our modern, secular, and in some respects atheistic world tries to bury this question with frantic activity and entertainment because it’s not something secularism can answer. The word “secular” simply means “earth bound” or “time bound.” In reference to society and culture, the word describes civilization that focuses itself on earthly living, earthly existence, with little or no concern for anything else, especially life after death. So on the one hand, we live in a secular, earthly, worldly age that pushes aside ultimate questions such as, “What becomes of me after death?” But on the other hand, we still observe or remember holidays such as Easter, that focus on death and life after death, and these types of big questions. And it’s good that we do still remember these spiritual topics because it makes us take serious the real ultimate issues of life, instead of just grabbing for the TV remote or ordering a pizza, which as citizens of a secular society we are inclined to do. What we don’t realize is we really need Easter every year to point us to God and ultimate things; we need a break from always thinking of earthly, worldly preoccupations. And in respect to Easter in particular, we need it to remind us that there is hope for life after death. Let me explain. (more…)

An Easter Question — Why Did Jews Reject Jesus?

March 28, 2012

Title: An Easter Question – Why Did Jews Reject Jesus?

Text: Luke 1: 71, 73; John 3:16

Time: March 16th, 2012

 

I’ve dealt with this question many times before and I’ll probably deal with it many more times in the future – “Why did the Jews at the time of Jesus reject him as Messiah?” The short answer is he wasn’t who they were looking for. The long answer is a bit more complicated because it requires us to then ask the question, “Who then were the Jews looking for in the Messiah?” And then the follow-up question, “What if they were wrong in who they were looking for” These are all good questions to ask around the Easter season because the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are at the heart of the Christian faith. Christians believe that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah. So then, ironically, mostly Gentiles, believe the Jewish Messiah has come, while Jews themselves, for the most part, don’t believe it. But then again, the world is full of similar ironies. For example, here’s another irony – the greatest promoters of the Hebrew Scriptures are Christians who translate, print and distribute the whole Bible, both Old and New Testaments everywhere around the world. In the process, as a consequence, more people are introduced to the teachings of the Jews through Christianity than through any other means. The Jews have Christians to thank for that. More people know about Jewish biblical heroes, such as Abraham, Moses and David, through Christian mission activity than through any Jewish efforts. And the ironies could continue. But even though it’s an interesting line of thought, let’s get back to the questions I raised earlier about the Jews rejecting Jesus as Messiah. Why did they reject him? The answer is found all throughout the New Testament in many different passages, but I recently stumbled across another verse that gives us another clue as to why most Jews during the time of Christ rejected him as their Messiah. Luke 1:68-79, the prophecy of Zechariah, John the Baptist’s father, pretty well summarized the Jewish hopes and longings in respect to the coming of the Messiah. I won’t cover the entire passage, but only call attention to two verses, 71 and 73, “That we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,” and “To grant that we, being rescued from the hand of our enemies.” These verses describe the Jewish prayer for the coming of the Messiah. They deal mostly with the deliverance of the Jews from their enemies. And at the time of Christ, the Roman Empire was the greatest enemy of the Jews. Israel wasn’t a free nation; it was occupied by Rome. The Jewish hope was for the Messiah to come and free Israel from the Romans. But let me take a little more time explaining this as we continue on Easter themes during the season of Lent. (more…)

Why Easter is Good For The Modern World

March 28, 2012

Title: Why Easter is Good For the Modern World

Text: Mark 4:17

Time: March 13th, 2012

 

Every year the Easter season comes and goes – and for worldly, secular, modern people it passes with a yawn and a shrug. But still, Easter is good for the world whether it realizes it or not. Now I’d love to say that Christians are never guilty of letting Easter pass by in apathy, but that would be wrong. Many Christians, like the unbelieving world, often view Easter as merely a holiday event on the calendar rather than an important season for thanks and praise. But for all the dosing off or sleeping during the Easter season or Easter service, nevertheless, Christians, the unbelieving world, and really all people, still need Easter and the message it brings. But before I say why Easter is still very important for believers and unbelievers alike, let me set the context. For the last couple hundred years, the Western World, and almost the entire world, has undergone a revolutionary change – from traditional society into modern society.  For example, in traditional societies, God was at the center of things, but in the modern society, man is the center of all things. In traditional societies faith was most important, but in modern societies human reason is supreme. In traditional societies church was a priority, but in modern societies education is exalted. This is only a short list, but I think we all get the picture. In the United States, the modern world has progressed from a few Enlightenment ideas discussed among intellectuals in the early days to today where it seems that only Enlightenment ideas are allowed in conversation. To bring in Christian doctrines or morals to the conversation one will likely get rebuked, “That’s just your opinion. Keep your private beliefs out of it.” This is totally different from traditional societies where faith was front and center in all discussions. Now today faith is pushed further and further to the side. We see this particularly in government and other large institutions. The result is that most nations of the Western World are secular today, some more, some less. For example, Europe is ahead of the United States in approaching a totally secular society, but we aren’t too far behind. Our government today is almost or nearly entirely secular — and with its expansion society becomes more and more secular as well. The point is, we live in a secular society where God and faith in God are pushed aside for other human, worldly priorities. Now why is the Easter season so important? Because it is one of the few occasions in our modern, secular world that points us all back to faith in God. Christmas does this and so does Easter. But more people attend churches at Easter time than any other time of the year. And while it isn’t as big a season as Christmas, it carries more theological and spiritual weight. People are reminded of such topics as life and death, and life after death. They are confronted with miracles and faith. So it’s really an important time of the year for all people. But let me explain further. (more…)

Lent — What is it?

March 28, 2012

Title: Lent – What is It?

Text: Mark 4:17

Time: March 12th, 2012

 

Ash Wednesday was February 22nd this year to begin the traditional and historical Christian church season of Lent. Of course, the day before was the popular “Fat Tuesday” where people buy high calorie doughnuts called “punchkies” and get indigestion from eating too many of them at once. But the reason for “Fat Tuesday” is to supposedly empty the kitchen cupboards of fat and sugar and other unhealthy substances, and rather than throw them out, instead, put them in a tasty dough mix, bake them and eat them as snack food before the traditional Ash Wednesday fast. The “Fat Tuesday” tradition isn’t widely known outside of Polish and Eastern European communities, but coming from the Detroit area with a large Polish community, I’ve known about it for years. The logic is, since a fast day is Wednesday; bulk up on calories on Tuesday. But I don’t want to talk about indulging and splurging today; instead, I’d like to talk about Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent. What is the purpose of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent in the Christian calendar? To begin with, many Christians, mostly Protestants, have never even heard of Ash Wednesday or the Lenten season. It’s mostly a tradition with the more liturgical churches, like Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran and so forth – churches that follow the traditional order of service or liturgy. These traditional and liturgical churches also follow the historical Christian calendar that dates back many centuries. One of the major dates on the Christian annual calendar is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent before Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Now historically, the weeks before Easter, the Lenten season, represented a time of preparation for catechumens – or those who were joining the church. It was a time set aside for confession and repentance of sin; a time of instruction in the Christian faith; a time of commitment and dedication to the Lord. So in connection with the new converts or new members joining Easter Sunday, the whole congregation fasted, confessed and repented over their sins as well in a time of recommitment and rededication to God. So the whole season of Lent became a time set aside each year for confession and repentance of sin, of rededication and recommitment to God, and a time for personal revival or renewal. Ideally, if a Christian were fully believing and acting as they should there’d never be a reason for a special time period for rededication and renewal. But because the influences of the world, the flesh and the devil; because nobody’s perfect and everyone needs help in living the Christian life consistently, Lent is a good time for everyone to recommit themselves back to God in any way or any in area from where they’d fallen away or fallen off. Many non-liturgical churches, such as Baptist, Congregationalist and Methodist also have such a time, only they call it revival meetings – which for some churches are scheduled yearly. But the purpose is very similar, that is, to point people back to God. So with that bit of introduction, let me explain three things about the season of Lent, what it is and what it isn’t. “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,’” Mark 4:17. (more…)

Abortion — Still Wrong (After All These Years)

March 3, 2012

Title: Abortion – Still Wrong (After All These Years)

Text: Exodus 20:13, Psalm 139:13-14, Romans 1:21-22

Time: February 23rd, 2012

 

We’ve recently passed another anniversary of the infamous Row v. Wade abortion decision here in the United States. It’s the 39th year since the Supreme Court legalized abortion everywhere in America. Before this ruling there were states where abortion was allowed under certain conditions, and other states where abortion was illegal altogether. But with one decision, the Court made abortion legal everywhere in the United States. In the nearly forty years since Row v. Wade American culture has changed a lot – unfortunately, it hasn’t changed for the better, morally and spiritually. Today, it’s pretty much accepted that abortion is available and legal nearly everywhere in our country. Most people today even feel that it’s a woman’s fundamental right. But as Christians we need to assert the very opposite every opportunity we have in order to counter the growing consensus in favor of abortion. There’s no wonder there is a consensus now in favor of abortion in the U.S.  The media overwhelmingly favors abortion. The education establishment almost entirely supports legal abortion. Of course, government supports abortion – that is, until the law can be changed. In fact, there aren’t many areas of culture today in America that oppose abortion accept the church and religious institutions, and even these are sometimes unreliable in their defense of the unborn! So as Christians against abortion we’ve got our backs against the wall, as they say. But I’d like to remind us with this message today that abortion is still wrong – even after all these years! Nothing has changed in respect to the Bible’s opposition to abortion. The unborn child in the womb is still a growing, developing, tiny human life. Taking an innocent human life is still wrong, no matter what the law says, no matter what the government says, no matter what politicians or educators or news reporters say, no matter what anybody says! To kill an innocent baby in the womb through abortion is murder; it’s wrong. But because it’s been nearly forty years since the Row v. Wade decision was made, and since for nearly four decades we’ve been living in a virtual killing-zone in respect to abortion, I’d like to outline three solid reasons why abortion is still wrong. I need to remind us over and over again that just because something has been allowed to stand legally decade after decade doesn’t make it right. Just because abortion is legal in the United States doesn’t make it now morally permissible. Some people think it does. Some think that if abortion were really all that bad, it wouldn’t be permitted. But that’s not true. Yes, abortion could be and is bad, and yes, it could be and is still permitted. This is a mistake that needs to be corrected. But in order to change the laws on abortion in this country we need to continue to assert the fact that abortion is wrong, still wrong, after all these many years. Let me review why abortion is still murder, still a grave sin, and still wrong. (more…)

American Idol — Television

March 3, 2012

Title: American Idol — Television

Text: Psalm 1:1, 1 John 2:15-17

Time: February 18th, 2012

 

A while back I preached a message from the little book of 1 John found in the New Testament. I happened to come to the passage on worldliness, 1 John 2:15-17, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of the eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires will pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” If I recall correctly, I mentioned television in connection with the passage that describes “the lust of the eyes,” and I remember that I was met with a not so warm reception after the church service. Why? Because as Americans, as modern people in a modern world, we have grown used to the idol of television blaring away in our living rooms non-stop – and we’ve grown to love it! The reason people today are particularly sensitive to television is because it’s one of their modern idols too. An idol is anything we place too high in priority in relation to other, more important things; and most specifically, it’s something we put above our devotion to and worship of God in our lives. It’s true. Television is important to the average American, so very important, so important that if you took it away most people would suffer withdrawals, just like an addict. In fact, you might call television one of the biggest addictions in America. My message on worldliness reminded people just what the passage in 1 John 2:15 says, “Don’t love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” I warned the congregation to beware of television and its power to attract and hold our attention – and steal our time and attention away from more important things. I mentioned prayer, Bible study and spiritual reflection. I haven’t heard statistics, although they seem to put out statistics about everything these days, I haven’t heard any on the effects of television on personal prayer and Bible devotions, but I’m guessing since the advent of television personal prayer and devotions have taken a big hit. That means TV is stealing us away from important things, more important things, and filling our time and attention with a lesser thing. That’s what happens when we love something in the world too much, just as 1 John teaches. Well, I’m not sure if this message will be received any more readily than my last sermon that mentioned television, but I’d like to warn us all again about the dangers of television from Psalm 1:1. But let me say this – I’m not against all television. I myself watch television. I’m against the idol of television, the use of television that turns us into addicts. I’m against watching television over devotion to God, or over talking with the wife and kids, or over pursuing more important and meaningful activities. I’m against mindless TV viewing, watching “whatever is on,” and feeding our minds, emotions and souls with worldly content. We need to beware of television – it isn’t just some innocent, harmless thing that we happen to like. If we aren’t careful it will rob us of the best things in life, and even steal us away from God. Let me explain further from Psalm 1 (read). (more…)