Perusal - Spring 2016, Skeptics and the Resurrection

Perusal* – Spring 2016, Skeptics and the Resurrection

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail)

John 20:26: “And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” 28 And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

In 1961 four lads from Liverpool met with Decca Records to discuss a new artist contract.  After listening to the group play two songs, “Please, Please Me” and “Love Me do” the consensus was their music was not in the current pop mainstream.  The lads were told, “guitar bands are on the way out!” In 1962 their manager, Brian Epstein, contacted a friend of his, George Martin, and arranged an audition for the group.  Martin listened politely and then commented, “I think with some arrangement the songs may sell.”  The four lads, John, Paul, George, and a late addition to the Beatles, Ringo Starr, were signed to Parlophone, EMI’s smaller label.  The rest of the story is pop music history!

Skeptics often guess and at times they guess wrong.  And when they do they get it terribly wrong.  Jesus’ disciples were not pre-disposed to belief in the validity of the resurrection.  After all, no one had ever risen from the dead of his own accord.  Peter and John were not convinced by the women returning from the tomb and their claim that Jesus’ body was missing.  They ran to see for themselves and later that first Sunday witnessed Jesus appearing in the Upper Room, the very same room in which he had promised his being raised from the dead.

Thomas was not with the other ten when Jesus appeared on the first resurrection Sunday. It was the next Sunday, a full week after that Thomas witnessed his Lord.  He fell victim to a season of doubt.  “Doubting” Thomas!  He has been called “doubting” for a very long time.  But don’t we all doubt?  Doubtless events, circumstances, troubles, insufficient information and many other issues confound and confuse our finite minds.  Try as we might, we sometimes are riddled with doubts.  And Thomas was experiencing the human condition.

Jesus convinced his followers that He was the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament.  But Messiahs do not die, especially from the cruel and torturous manner of crucifixion.   All the disciples were in doubt of the resurrection, not just Thomas.  They had seen and touched Christ Jesus the week before and their doubts were answered.  But Thomas had a crisis of conscience, he doubted their testimony like so very many today doubt the tangible, physical resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

Maybe Thomas had a bit of Missourian in him – he was from the “show me” state or region of Palestine.  Jesus satisfied his longing mind.  I’m certain Thomas wanted the resurrection of God the Son to be true, but was hesitant because of sin.  Sin causes unbelief, whether in recording companies or individuals…”be not faithless, but believing.”  How can our disposition to doubt be eclipsed?  God’s Spirit must convince us that His word is truth and His truth is the most valuable evidence for life after this life in this mortal world.  God alone brings us to salvation as Jesus alone brought Thomas to the reality of His physical resurrection.  “Reach out your hands and touch me” he said.  Confirm my flesh, feel the wounds from my scars.  “Don’t be a skeptic, but believe!” 

There is much to be skeptical of in our fallen world, but faith in Jesus Christ and His glorious resurrection should be the one event that transforms our doubts.  Doubtless, is the antithesis of doubting. Doubtless there would not be hope in the hereafter without the Resurrection.  Do not make the skeptical mistake that Decca records did in 1961.  Listen to the music of God’s love for you and take hold of His promises in the grace of Jesus Christ to all that repent of their sins and believe.  He brings us to the place of choosing with the truth of His word.  We are blessed if we believe without seeing, though the truth is, we have seen the risen Lord!

It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth of scripture to you this Easter and that a skeptical heart may be convince of divine truth, transplanted by the risen Lord Jesus Christ!

The Lord is risen indeed!

Sola Deo Gloria! Pastor Carey

Perusal* – Winter 2015, Reflections on Thanksgiving & Advent

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail)

Col. 4:2-4: Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains, that I may make it manifest, as I ought to speak.

2015 is quickly coming to a close.  And what a year it has been.  At times this year much of Europe has been either on “lock down” or contemplating next steps to counter the rabid terrorism of Islam.  California is the latest state to experience the mass murder of people, perhaps at the hands of Islamic extremism. I read recently that Islam’s eschatology (vision of the afterlife), which promises up to 72 “houris” (“gazelle eyed women”, loosely translated “virgins”) as eternal companions for the jihadists, is perhaps the strangest and certainly most troubling of religions’ visions of heaven.  While the Christian faith promises an eternal and everlasting life of worship and fellowship with a loving, merciful, and gracious triune God simply by faith alone, Islam ups the ante by encouraging violent martyrdom.  While there are times when believers should defend themselves and their convictions from untruth, the bible encourages us to “preach the gospel of peace” and “if it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” 

The great contrast between jihad and peace is illustrated in the epistles of Paul.  His epistle to the church in Colosse (meant also for the neighboring church in Laodicea) is laced with counters to false teachings that were prevalent in the Greco-Roman world, especially Gnosticism.  He masterfully illuminates the eternal nature of the Christ Jesus and reminds the believers in Colosse to be aware of philosophical cheaters.  Our world is inundated with such people today, denying the Incarnation of Christ and claiming a natural Spiritism that asserts a mystical union with God. As in all his letters to young, primitive churches, Paul instructs in sound doctrine and corrects false, self-promoting deceit.  He does expect disciples to be consistent in their respect for and allegiance to their local church, reminding them that once born again, the “new man” is renewed in knowledge according to God’s image. He writes to instruct these churches from a heart of peace.

Paul brings the letter to a close with keen instruction for the structure of a Christian home.  Churches are only as strong as the number of strong, holy Christian homes.  He reiterates this in the closing verses, emphasizing the grace of continual prayer.  And the type of prayer he stresses is laced with thanksgiving.  He uses the word “vigilant”, a unique word used to imply “staying awake” and being alert to specific needs of others.  Thanksgiving in the bible is focused on the Gospel, good news indeed.

I am thankful for the Gospel in the incarnate person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul is always instructing churches to effectively present the Gospel and pray that it might be broadcast. When he instructs individuals it is because they are ministering to local churches to expand the Gospel’s horizons.  While under house arrest in Rome, he asked the Colossians for vigilant prayer that an effective door be opened so that he may speak to those about him the Gospel. Nothing like isolation to make us thankful for our local church!

There is a path to peace and it begins with exposure to the Bible for in it we learn of God.  Once the Holy Spirit has regenerated us by grace alone and we have believed by faith alone, we should meditate on the written word.  Prayer is the natural motivation after contemplation, first for confession of our sins, then a thankful response and praise for salvation via the cross.  When we praise God, he brings others to our mind so that we make intercession for them. Finally we are free to petition our Lord for our own needs.

Prayers that begin focusing on ourselves are misplaced.  We all are needy, but we are not imprisoned.  One of the key components of thanksgiving is the reminder that, except for sin, we are not as desperate as we might think. Others surely have greater needs than I.  This is another reason why our consistency and faithfulness to a local church is vital to engaging prayers.  When the church prays we are reminded that the world is so very much larger than just us and, ultimately, the needs can only be met in the Gospel.  Flat Creek’s focus on prayer is vital to our faith.  Tim Keller in his book “Prayer” says, “Many churches today, especially those with what is called contemporary worship, give the congregants almost no help with prayer at all.”  Corporate prayer is a teaching moment and couple with our private readings of scripture, will over time change our selfish way of praying to praise and honor of Jesus Christ, lifting the needs of those who truly need His intervention for physical, financial, or emotional strength, and molding our prayers for our spiritual growth.  

Being thankful and praying for the gospel is primarily due to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, the truth of Christmas.  How wonderful that a time of thanksgiving prepares us for Christ’s first advent.

May I ask all of us a question…”when we pray, do we pray for the jihadist that, by God’s amazing grace, they may have the Holy Spirit remove the blinders from their eyes, see Jesus as Lord and Savior, and by faith be transformed into a believer?”

I close this meditation with thoughts from Ravi Zacharias at this time of year:

“… I suggest that rather than think of all the bleak things we face let us pause and thank God for the hope He gives even in the darkness. As King George VI said, "I said to the man at the gate of the year, ‘give me a light that I may walk safely into the unknown.’ He said to me, ‘Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. It shall be to you better than the light and safer than the known’."

Your hand in God's hand is the only experience that will take you safely into the future. That is best done with His word and on your knees. There, let all the earth be silent before Him. With minimal words from your lips, a bounty of peace can descend into your heart. When you draw close to Him you see the temporal through the eyes of the eternal. Lift your eyes on the positive side of blessing and you will see He carries you over the valleys around. In the desert sands, the broken stones may speak. But the mended hearts speak louder.”

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas! My prayer is that 2016 will be the best year for growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ to God’s glory.

Sola Deo Gloria! Pastor Carey

Posted July, 2015 

Perusal* – Summer 2015, A Greater Love!

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail)

John 15:12-25, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.  No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.  If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.  Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’”

“Love wins!” proclaimed the “winners” of the decision made by the SCOTUS on June 26, 2015. Did love win in the manner that Jesus declared to his disciples in John 15?  And does the “rest of the story” in John 15, the scriptures that follow about the “world hates you…” does that paint a picture of what may lie beneath the 5-4 decision?  Would anyone have dreamed twenty years ago when the Defense of Marriage Act was passed that five academics and lawyers would unilaterally redefine for America the crucible of all human foundations – marriage?

A great deal could be written about the ramifications of this decision, but let’s briefly examine how America evolved to this point.  Recently our country celebrated July 4th, the two hundred and thirty ninth anniversary of our Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson, its author, wrote that human liberty was grounded in self-evident truth, meaning that truth is not an individual right, but is discovered by careful and courageous examination of verifiable facts.  Justice Anthony Kennedy redefined Jefferson’s understanding of truth in a 1992 SCOTUS decision, reaffirming the Roe v. Wade abortion disaster of 1973.  He wrote, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Sounds like the lines from a Seinfeld episode in the nineties, “it isn’t a lie if you believe it to be true.”

What does it matter if two men or women “love” each other?  How could that possibly impact anyone?  Well, it has.  Brendan Eich, the CEO of Mozilla (Firefox) was forced to resign because he made a $1000 donation to California’s Proposition 8, the ballot measure on which the people of California voted to ban same-sex marriages.  Chick-fil-A was banned from Chicago and Boston because the mayors disagreed with the traditional marriage position of the CEO of the fast food chain.  And many more; the hundreds of peripheral businesses that support the wedding industry that have refused or may refuse to cater a gay wedding, have already been impacted because a rabid judicial branch took it upon themselves to tell the American people that most of us have been wrong-headed, intolerant, and just plain stupid when it comes to our God-given right to ascribe to heterosexual marriage. 

This really should not surprise anyone. For many years marriage has suffered at the hands of self-indulgent men and women bent on redefining it for themselves.  Child and spousal abuse has risen substantially because a decline in strong, healthy marriages has corrupted our basic understanding of the true nature of marriage.  Folks are always looking for their soul-mate, and should they be found outside of their current marriage, just divorce to find true happiness and personal fulfillment.  Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Kagan, Breyer, and Ginsburg did not arrive at these conclusions single-handedly, they only tapped into the drift in our culture and identified with the “truth is what I define it to be “crowd.

Added to the marriage confusion is the transgender illusion. Is all of our existence now defined by what I may feel at any particular point in my life?  What if I get it wrong and make a decision that later I come to regret?  Many amoral people our confused about who they are and about their place in humanity.  These decisions have troubled men and women since creation – Adam sought to disbelieve what God told him clearly and ventured into disobedience.  And so it goes.  Submission to and directed by the living Word of God provides the hope for clarity.  “These things I command you”, Jesus stated.  Humanity must grasp the unalterable fact that there is an Authority greater than our feeble, duplicitous minds.

 

There was a time in our nation that truth was defined as Jefferson and most everyone before him knew it to be. Trevin Wax, editor of Lifeway Resources, wrote recently, “The reality is, it takes absolutely no courage in an age of self-expression to create and live by your own standards. Instead, true courage is not deciding for yourself what is “right and wrong,” but seeking to discover what truly is right and wrong — for yourself and for everybody else. It takes courage to look outside yourself, to bind your heart to an ideal that is bigger than your own set of standards, to investigate truth rather than invent it.”

 

Flat Creek, a number of years ago witnessing the amoral and immoral drift of the USA, added a clarification to our church constitution, that basically states that marriages which take place in the Flat Creek Baptist Church will be celebrated between a man and woman only.  Thousands of years of human history supports this, but, more importantly, God's word is unalterable in its declaration for intimacy between those created male and female. 

Jesus confirmed marriage as between a man and woman in Matthew 19.  The truth is, the love of Christ is greater than ANY human love.  And when He loves in grace it causes division. Grace disrupts our predilection for works based acceptance, whether in marriage or life as a whole.  Grace is disruptive before it is redemptive.  He knew all of His followers would become hated by the world, because he knew grace drives a stake deep into the heart of self-made truth.  Homosexual marriage is not the world’s greatest sin; unbelief fits that bill. “I am the way, and the truth, and life…” Jesus exclaimed.  Yes, Christ Jesus takes everyone as they are, but He does not leave us to wallow in the fantasy land of our own trumped up truth.  He would call this a lie.  He laid down his life so that we might be changed by his message of truth.  The good news is that he went willingly to a cross to pay His father’s ransom for all sin, any sin, even unbelief.  No greater love than this has ever existed!

Sola Deo Gloria! Pastor Carey

Perusal* – Spring 2015

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail) 

Hebrews 7:25; Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Disease is something all of us suffer.  It could be the “common” cold, the latest strain of flu, or the “emperor of all maladies”, cancer.  Our Creator has formed bodies with an immune system that identifies the invading germ and with laser like precision narrows its attack on the virus or bacteria that are doing us harm.  Except for cancer.  We now know that cancer cells are our own cells that have mutated and grow exponentially, masquerading as good cells and like a machine, methodically killing us from the inside.

Sin is very much like cancers.  Often we do not feel its consequences or see its devastation until far too late.  It is natural to our mortal bodies and minds, so much so that it will bring about physical, but more importantly, spiritual death.  If ignored, or avoided, sin eventually controls us, corrupting minds and bodies with ungodly thoughts and  crippling ends. The triune God knows this so much better than we mortals.  True to His word in Genesis 3 when he promised Adam and Eve they would surely die if they disobeyed His law, He also was true to bring about the cure for our sin, Jesus Christ, God the Son!

We may want to cure dreaded diseases, keep our children from unholy people claiming wrong as right, and stopping pilots from intentionally flying planes into the ground.  We want to, but cannot.  We do not have the ability. We may want to prolong life with no fear of diseases’ consequences.  Scientists and doctors have made great strides to eradicate disease from earth, but new ones arise that will continue to stretch their mental capacitates. Their ability is limited to the one thing that keeps them from finishing their work - their own death.

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of David.  He fulfilled all scripture that pertains to the Messiah (Luke 24:44). His incarnation provided to humanity he is the greatest of all Prophets.  He now graciously is our high priest and will very soon return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Be reminded that there is no resurrection without the ignominious suffering of the cross.  The author of Hebrews tells his readers that our salvation is due to Christ Jesus ability to save, literally our salvation is “fully ended, completed”.  So, it begs the question, what are we saved from…why do we need to be saved?

John Piper writes, “If, to be saved forever, we need Christ to intercede for us forever with God, then what is the implication about what we need saving from? The implication is that we need to be saved from God. Specifically we need to be saved from the wrath of God that burns against all ungodliness and unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Christ can save us forever from the wrath of God because he intercedes forever with God. He continually puts himself between the Father and us as an asbestos shield against his white-hot anger against sin. Hebrews 10:30-31 says, "We know Him who said, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay.' And again, 'The Lord will judge his people.' It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Thankfully, the resurrection signaled to all time that the Son of God’s cruel death assuaged God the Father’s intense wrath against sin.  It follows that what Jesus endured on Calvary continues today in God’s throne room of heaven.  His role as prophet was completed on Golgotha’s hill and our Lord is now our great high priest making intercession for his children.  God did that for his children.  He ordained a Prophet and a High priest, God the Son, who lives to intercede.  Jesus doesn’t need to plead his case with our Father. The resurrection proved God’s complete and final acceptance of His Son’s sacrifice and ordained Jesus as our great high priest.

The Gospel is simple in demonstration of faith, but complex in its execution. Simply, the good news is that the just and gracious Creator of the universe has looked upon hopelessly sinful men and women and has sent his Son, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to bear his wrath against sin on the cross and to show power over sin in the resurrection, so that everyone who turns from their sin and themselves and trusts in Jesus as Savior and Lord will be reconciled to God forever.”

The execution of the Gospel demonstrates to all that would repent and believe that the love of God rescues us from the wrath of God, in such a way that the justice of God is vindicated and the glory of God is exalted.

The Trinity’s justice was vindicated in Jesus’ death and the glory of God is revealed by raising Christ from the dead.  God is for you and I and wants to be with us.  Do we want to be with Him?  God brings peace in the Gospel of a Person, Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 13: 20 “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, 21 make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

Thankfully, the resurrection accords to believers an able Savior, resurrected and alive forevermore, making eternal intercession before the throne of God.  Jesus prays for us and that secures our salvation!

It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth of scripture to you this Easter and that you might confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.

The Lord is raised indeed!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Pastor Carey

Perusal* – Winter 2015, Reflections on Cabin Fever…

(* perusal; to examine or consider with attention and in detail)

Psalms 62:1; For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.

2    He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

This is being written on a Sunday morning.  Robby & I are not with our Flat Creek family and we miss them.  The providence of our great and sovereign God has determined that the mildness of the winter in December through to almost the end of February would be interrupted this week.  This has been the coldest week in the history of central Virginia, at least as far back as the 1840’s when records were started.  In fact, Friday morning was the coldest day ever in central Virginia; -11o F.  Where are the geniuses forecasting an apocalyptic “global warming”?

Cabin fever is the hot topic among central Virginians.  Our youngest daughter Megan Epps and her family, Dean, Wyatt, and Sawyer, were featured on our local TV station in Lynchburg, WSET, talking about “cabin fever”.  The New England states have had it much worse than Virginians – over 100” of snow and also record, bitter cold.  Perhaps they can give us some pointers on surviving “real” cabin fever.

So, what should believers think during these abnormal weather days?  Our Lord often reminds us in His word to “Be still and know that I am God”, Ps. 46:10. But how often are we “still”, or “silent”, or “peaceful”?  Our days and weeks are filled with activity, entertainment, busyness, and sometimes, just plain nosiness.  The ordinary drumbeat of our lives must be titillated with extra sensory experiences, even in our churches.  Acts of God today are no longer just weather phenomena; they must be resounding miraculous events or circumstances.  We must feel the “earth move under my feet” (w/ apologies to Carole King). Little do we think of God’s sustaining grace every single day of our lives through the means He has ordained to grow us in his grace – preaching, teaching, and the ordinances of baptism and celebration of Lord’s Supper.

During this winter time and especially on an inclement Lord’s Day, what better opportunity to reflect, in silence, on His gift of salvation in God the Son.  “I am making Jesus”, we say, “my personal Lord and Savior”, as if we could make him anything!  This assumes we start as autonomous individuals that “own” ourselves, forgetting that “You are not our own” (1 Cor. 6:18).  We have traded the Savior in exchange for whatever He can give us in return.  The Gospel, the Good News, is that Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior. We do not make him anything! It is what He has made us – coheirs of his estate and adopted as his brothers and sisters. Good to meditate in silence on the true rock of our salvation.

David talks of his Lord as his “fortress”, or so says the ESV (Easy Southern Version, or English Standard Version, whichever you prefer).  The KJV uses the English word “defense”.  Both are appropriate.  David was longing for a refuge from Absalom, his treasonous son.  The word can mean “an isolated cliff, lofty and inaccessible”.  It is thought to be Misgab in Moab, a strong citadel built in the highlands.  David often wrote of hiding places, isolated venues to escape his enemies and reflect on Gods’ great stability and salvation.   

Christ Jesus is God incarnate, divinely human and humanly divine.  Michael Horton writes, “He did not remain in heaven while writing messages in the sky or on giant screens. He sent prophets in His name and, in the fullness of time, he came down himself – assuming our flesh.”  “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (Jn. 10:27). Do you know the Savior in silence? Are you satisfied with His ordinary influences in your believing life? Remember, we cannot make God any greater than He is.  The ordinary triune God is always extraordinary!  We don’t need another hero and need not to make Christ Jesus our hero.  He is our Savior, Redeemer, Friend, Counselor, Fortress, elder Brother, Creator, and Judge.  Reflect on these things silently, humbly, steadily; in the ordinary course of day to day life!

Cabin fever is meant to cause us pause, meditation, reflection, and serenity in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

Sola Deo Gloria!

Pastor Carey