Friday, March 29, 2013

You can’t have an egg burrito without the eggs: Four reasons why the resurrection is vital

Have you ever tried to have an egg burrito without the eggs? If you do, you end up with just a tortilla, some cheese and maybe some bacon or Cholula. Now while that may still taste good, you don’t have an egg burrito.  There are certain things that are at the core of what makes a thing what it is. For the egg burrito it is the eggs, without them you may still have a burrito but it is not an egg burrito.

As we approach Easter Sunday where we think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ we must understand its place in Christianity. We need to ask the question, can we have Christianity without the resurrection? If you remove the resurrection from the equation is Christianity still Christianity in the sense that the Bible portrays it?

To aid in answering these questions we need to take our queue from the Apostle Paul. In I Corinthians 15, Paul lays out the case for the resurrection so lets take a look there, if you have a Bible please grab it and open up to I Cor. 15. (Don’t worry I will wait for you. Don’t blow me off, go get your Bible! And maybe an egg burrito if you have the ingredients handy.)

In the first eleven verses Paul points out that there are some things that are “of first importance”, namely the death, burial, resurrection and appearance of Christ. These things are at the core of our theology as Christians and we must keep them that way.

For the remainder of chapter 15 Paul gives us many reasons as to why the resurrection matters, and in this blog post we will look at four of those reasons.[1] The first three come at the issue from a negative standpoint, meaning, “if the resurrection did not happen then…” The fourth reason provides a more positive, encouraging viewpoint.

First, if the resurrection is not true Christianity is a lie. As the apostle Paul stated in the initial verses of ch. 15 the resurrection is one of the core truths of Christianity, so it stands to reason that if it is not true Christianity is a lie and cannot be trusted.

14 And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. 15 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. 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.[2]

If there is no resurrection from the dead, then Christ has not been raised, and if Christ has not been raised then Christians have misrepresented God and have lied about what God has done. If that is true then Paul argues that we are most to be pitied because we not only have been deceived and have been deceiving ourselves, but we must face the reality that we have misrepresented God. What a pitiable state indeed! But, Paul implies, Christ has been raised (and has been seen to be raised) so the general resurrection can be counted on, that leads us into the next reason.

Second, if Jesus was not raised from the dead, then death still reigns. Paul argues that since Christ was raised from the dead, death will fully and finally be put under Christ’s feet as he reigns on high.[3] This is the point of vv. 20–28,

20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep… 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.[4]

Christ is the firstfruits and the ruler of all things. But if Christ was not raised, he has not conquered death and if death still reigns then God is not on the throne, death holds the victory because it holds Christ.  Yet Christ is raised, and when he comes again he will put death under his feet, he will present his people to the Father and he will take up his rightful place as the ruler of all.

Third, if there is no resurrection, then life is meaningless and there is no justice. Paul makes this argument in one of the most recognizable in the entire Bible, ‘If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die”’ (v 32b). This line gets picked up by everyone from Nihilistic philosophers to pop music stars to people who just want to sound smart and hip, but one must ask the question, do they understand what they are saying? Paul quotes this from Isaiah 22:13, where Isaiah is pronouncing an Oracle against Jerusalem for their lack of dependence on God who is the one who provided care for them. Paul picks this up and argues that if the resurrection did not happen then there is no reason why we ought to care about God and the afterlife, all that matters is today, now, what we do in this moment. So live it up! But that is just it, Paul says, the resurrection did happen and this is not all that matters. Paul is telling us that there is a larger point to life than our pleasure. All of these negative points would be true if Christ were not raised, but because CHRIST WAS RAISED they are done away with. That moves us to the last point.

Fourth, since the resurrection did happen, we now have an everlasting, imperishable hope. Paul makes this argument in vv. 50–58. He encourages the believers at Corinth, telling them that since Christ was raised from the dead we know that one-day, when Christ returns in victory death and the grave will finally and fully be done away with. This is true hope, and Christ’s resurrection seals it for all eternity for those who believe. Yet for now we still live in this sin-cursed world and we still feel the pangs of death and the grave. But not for long, as we gather together as God’s people on Sunday, as we focus our mind on the empty tomb every Easter, it is a reminder that the new creation is close at hand, our resurrection is near. Christ’s resurrection to imperishable glory is a reminder, a picture, and a sure present hope of what will happen to those who believe as the perishable puts on the imperishable, as the mortal puts on the immortal and we spend eternity with the one who saves us. I want to end this post with a quote from the Lutheran commentator R.C.H. Lenski where he says,

Death is not merely destroyed so that it cannot do further harm while all the harm which it has wrought on God’s children remains… The destruction of death is far more intense: Death and all of its apparent victories are undone for God’s children. What looks like a victory for death and like a defeat for us when our bodies die and decay shall be utterly reversed so that death dies in absolute defeat, and our bodies live again in absolute victory. Yea, more! For these bodies will be restored, not merely again to be “flesh and blood,” but henceforth, to be incorruptible, immortal, “spiritual” (v 44), “heavenly” (v 49).

[1] Obviously this is not a rigorous defense of the historicity of the resurrection. What is in focus in this blog post is why the resurrection matters to Christianity.
[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (1 Co 15:12–19). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[3] It is also interesting to think about the reality that death is even now being put under Christ’s feet even as it already has been.
[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (1 Co 15:20–28). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Declare His Glory Among the Nations

Our Faculty

Last Sunday we were privileged to have the Reverend Emma Kiwanuka preaching in the morning at NCPC and presenting on his work in Uganda in the evening.  We first came to know Emma as a church when he came all the way from Kampala, Uganda to study at Westminster Seminary in Escondido in the 1990’s.  Emma is now a pastor, church planter, a central leader in the Presbyterian Church in Uganda, is the founder and dean of Westminster Theological College in Uganda and the principal of Westminster Seminary in Uganda.  He is also a lecturer there in New Testament studies.  That’s a lot of ministry!  After having Emma with us, it ought to compel us to ask God to widen our vision and expand our heart for the Gospel’s progress among the nations and for missionary success around the world. 

Let’s spend a moment meditating on Psalm 96, which calls us both to worship and to missions:

Psalm 96:1-4 Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth!  2 Sing to the LORD, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day.  3 Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!  4 For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.

Notice the flow of the Psalm writer’s thought. 

A call for global worship:  "Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth!"  The writer’s desire is that no one be left out of this massive worship service!  Don’t miss his heart: the longing in this verse is for a new song of praise to be belted out by every man woman and child on earth!  Do we have such a heartbeat?

A call for global witness: There is a desire not just for worship, but proclamation of a specific message:  “Tell of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!” The message is God’s grace (salvation), God’s glory, and God's works.  The call is regular (day to day) global (among the nations) proclamation.  He strengthens the poetry with parallelism:

Declare His glory among the nations
                        His marvelous works among all the peoples!

We are to be worshippers, but we are also to be proclaiming God’s majesty among all nations, all peoples.  Why is worship and missions so closely related?  They are closely connected in part because worship is goal of missions.  As pastor and author John Piper puts it:

“The ultimate goal of the church is to reflect and display the glory and worth of God. Missions is a means, not an end. Missions exists because worship and obedience don't. In the age to come there will be no missions. It is not our ultimate end. It is a means to that end.” 

In other words, missions exists to take the Gospel to a place in order that God might transform people into worshippers – something he is seeking (John 4:23).  Then worship will also LEAD to missions.  People who have been reached with the Gospel will then desire to GO with the Gospel (missions). 

Remember that it is not the other way around – missions (or evangelism) is not the goal of worship.  The goal for worship is to give God glory, and then God’s people will be moved to obediently and gratefully take the Gospel to all nations.  We worship (Psalm 96:1) which then moves us to go and declare his salvation to all who will hear (v.2-3).  Evangelism certainly must happen in worship as people come into our midst and hear the Gospel preached (woe unto us if people don’t hear the Gospel in our worship service!).  However worship is for GOD, not for us, though we are the happy beneficiaries of his grace!

A massive motivation for both: “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.”  He gives a compelling reason to worship and witness:  the greatness of God.  God is worthy to be praised because He is great, and there is no other god besides Him:  “He is to be feared above all gods.”  Truly nothing can compare with Him, and if that grabs hold of us we will bow in humble worship and run to tell the nations of His glory and grace. 

As you reflect on our time with Pastor Emma, ask God to give you this heart of Psalm 96 – a heart to worship and a heart to “declare his glory among the nations.”  May God stoke the fires of worship and witness in our midst!

In Him,
Pastor David 

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Death of the Me Monster

A while ago I ran across a great comedy routine, and in it Brian Regan pokes fun at those who he calls Me Monsters. This is a person who must be at the center of every conversation. You know this person. Every story you tell he has to tell one that is better, everything you own he owns two.

The first time I watched this video I instantaneously thought of certain people. Then I got into a conversation and I realized that I was a Me Monster and instantaneously I shut up. As I went along with my day I denied my recent discovery, but the reality started to nag me I AM A ME MONSTER! I must be the center of conversations; I must be the center of attention. This was a terrifying revelation. What was I going to do? Lets talk about me more…

What drives this desire in each of us to be the center of attention? What feeds the Me Monster within?

Each of us feels the need for acceptance. Each of us has the desire to be affirmed in our existence. We are all in need of love. Each of us has the law within us telling us that we are not good enough, we are not beautiful enough, we are not smart enough and the most scary part about it is we know it is right.[1] So we try and try to find that love and affirmation using any means necessary. We are proud people looking to be accepted and loved.

To cope with these realities some turn to the Self-Esteem movement to find affirmation. They desire to hear others tell them how good they are and if they cannot get that affirmation from others they attempt to affirm themselves.

Recently I have been reading a book about death and dying and the author encapsulates this thought. The author, who is also a hospice doctor, when speaking about broken relationships with a patient who is dying says,

Before I go, I want to give you an assignment that I want you to practice everyday. It may seem silly, but give it a try. In a quiet time of the day, when you are all alone, or at night when you’re relaxed, lying in bed before sleep, close your eyes and say to yourself ‘I am not a bad person.’… After you’ve mastered ‘I am not a bad person,’ you graduate to ‘I am a good person.’[2]

The author sums it all up on the next page when he tells the patient, “You weren’t raised to feel good about yourself just for being who you are.” The doctor touches on something insightful here, we are not raised to think that we are good enough, because we are not. Our works, no matter how good they are or how plenteous they are, just aren’t enough to gain the love we need because they are always temporary.

So we go turn to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to show the world that we are really cool, fun people. We post photos of our kids, or tell others about the great restaurant we are eating at, all the while looking for the affirmation and attention from others that we desperately need. The law rings out you are not cool enough, you are not good enough, nobody loves you, and yet we try harder and harder. We try to show people that we are worthy of their love. We try desperately to prove our worth by having bigger and better things, after all "he who dies with the most toys..."

In his book Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis aptly describes the function of pride as a constant drive for affirmation.
Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.[3]

Tim Keller in his little booklet The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness describes the situation like this,
What we are all looking for is an ultimate verdict that we are important and valuable. We look for that ultimate verdict every day in all the situations and people around us. And that means that every single day, we are on trial. Every day we put ourselves back in the courtroom.[4]

So what are we to do? How can we put to death the Me Monster inside that is constantly looking for affirmation? Where do we go to hear the “ultimate verdict” that tells us we are loved and valued more than we can ever imagine?

We look to the life, the cross and the empty tomb of the one who was, is and always will be good enough. We look to Christ! Throughout Christ’s time on earth he was declaring to us God’s love for his chosen people (Jn. 3:16; Rom. 5:8). Because of his love for us, his perfect life is given to us so that we don’t have to worry about whether or not God accepts us. Because God accepts Christ, and we are united to Christ through Faith, God accepts us. There is no more proving yourself to God or to anyone else because it is “God who justifies” (Rom 8:31ff).

Through Christ's death God handed down the verdict and showered us with his grace and love. On the cross God the Father’s very Son was crucified for you. The one “to whom and through whom all things were created” the one who shared perfect communion with the Father was sacrificed for you, because you are that valuable to him. When Christ dying on the cross uttered, “It is finished” the verdict came in “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” So you no longer need to fear what will happen if you are not good enough, Christ has borne God’s wrath for his people, and you are now free from the slavery of sin. So now you too can live a life where you try to follow God. But that is not all. When Christ was nailed to the cross you and all your sins were nailed with him, you have died with Christ, you were raised with Christ and now you live in Christ.

At the empty tomb we see that Christ has already conquered death for you. He went to the grave and descended into hell, FOR YOU! Yes, you are more sinful than you ever dared believe. But in Christ you are more loved than you could ever imagine. And now that death is conquered there is a place for you reserved in heaven, there is an eternal inheritance preserved in heaven FOR YOU! (Jn. 14:1–7)

This truth sets you free from the incessant cycle of trying to prove yourself to yourself, others or God. God has given you all things, and if that is true than every desire you or I have to gain affirmation can be found and satisfied in Christ.

Like Paul, we can say, ‘I don’t care what you think. I don’t even care what I think. I only care about what the Lord thinks.’ And he has said, ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, and ‘You are my beloved child in whom I am well pleased’.[5]

Because of Christ we now have all that we ever could need. Because of Christ's love for us we are secure. Because of Christ we have the ability and the power to live new lives, and to be free of the Me Monster within.

[1] Here I am not only speaking of God’s Law as summarized in the 10 commandments. I am also speaking about the law that is within each of us, that accuses us, that condemns us and the law that society puts on us telling us that we must be something we are not.
[2] Dying Well Ira Byock, M.D. p 104–105
[3] C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity quoted from Tim Keller The freedom of self-forgetfulness p 18.
[4] Tim Keller The freedom of self-forgetfulness p 38
[5] Keller p 44