Worth Dying For

Posted by on May 28, 2006 under Sermons

Memorial Day:

  • Most Memorial Days this is even forgotten – the emphasis is often on the three day weekend.
  • We are drawn to stories of heroism. The true stories are the best.
  • Heroes of the military service aren’t the only heroes. (Movies: United 93 and World Trade Center)
  • This morning we mentioned the Christians who died for the sake of the gospel … Bowing down in the arena and praying for the Emperor – that is an act of heroic faith that embodies trust in Christ.
  • Too often overlooked, but the people of God have their share of heroes too.

The Cloud of Witnesses – “The World was not Worthy of Them:”

  • Biblical History (text & application) Read Hebrews 11 – “By Faith!”
  • Why does the preacher of Hebrews enter into this rousing recital of those dedicated souls who gave up so much for something they felt was worth dying for?
  • Because he wants to remind them that faith IS worth dying for and these witnesses call them to that rather than to an apathetic lazy faith.
  • They considered it worth dying for – by faith. They witness to us showing us that we can live for what they died for. Their faith is made complete in us.
    • The heroes of faith died and struggled for something yet to come
    • We have that something – what will we do? What do you think the heroes would want us to do?
  1. D. Bonhoeffer – “When Jesus calls a man he bids him come and die!” – Jesus demands that we sacrifice our whole self to him!
  2. Jesus Christ is the only master worth dying for – are you dedicated to him? Are you sold out on him? Consider him – fix your eyes on him! Service to Christ is not just a matter for preachers, elders, deacons. If you have been baptized, then you’re drafted – enlisted – charged! Get involved! Get dedicated! There’s a war going on after all.
  3. This is a call to dedicate yourself to something worth dying for. Don’t let the world be worthy of you! – This is call away from dedication to things that are not worth dying for (but we often serve those masters so faithfully).
    • [When Paul was unconcerned about the judgment of others and even his own self-judgment, he was expressing his dedication to the only master worth dying for (and he did die for that Lord)]
    • Christ is worth the investment of your passion – You can commit your whole self to Christ and his church
    • This isn’t a scold; it is a blessing. God has favored us. The reason we honor our soldiers is because they commit their whole lives to something – something greater than themselves.
    • Let’s stop this nonsense that says that people – especially young people – won’t dedicate their lives to something. People desire for their lives to count for something – We just haven’t sounded Christ’s call in its full volume.
  • Jim Elliot: “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
  • So close to home it doesn’t seem as bold and grand maybe, but that’s really how it is. The cloud of witness is made up of some of the humblest and ordinary people. (Read the Bible and see for yourself!)
  • You will die for something, even if it is something worthless. The call is to die to self and live for Christ – to commit yourself to the Lord who is worth dying for – that may mean many different things – but for each of us it will mean: obedience, faithfulness, joy and hope. We do not have a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, love and self-control.
  • People will be looking at you. Not me, not some busybody. Even if they do – that doesn’t count. I am not talking about them. I am talking about the cloud of witness. They are looking at you. Some of them are living, some are not. The witness of their lives is a memorial to us. An example of dedication to the Lord worth dying for.

Don’t Know Much About History

Posted by on under Sermons

Check out Chris’ DaVinci Code blog.

You say you don’t know much about history? Well, don’t let that stop you from writing a multi-million dollar best-selling novel. It didn’t stop Dan Brown from DaVinci Code and every magazine article and follow-up book to the DaVinci Code is packed with the historical errors that Dan Brown has made regarding art history, medieval history, biblical history, and even recent history.

No big deal right? After all, The DaVinci Code is just fiction, right? That’s just the problem – is it only fiction? The novel has a much-discussed front page emblazoned with the legend “FACT:” which informs us that “All descriptions of artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals are accurate.” So, if I trust this statement and I am reading the fictional characters describe history and documents and artwork I would be inclined to think that even though this is just the discussion of fictional characters, what they are discussing is true, yes? Logically that would be so, yet the fact is that the descriptions are not at all accurate. Furthermore, even though Brown or anyone else can ultimately contend that The DaVinci Code is just a work of fiction, the books and scholarship that Brown relied upon, such as Holy Blood, Holy Grail, do not presume to be fiction. They attempt a revision of history that will appeal to some.

We could spend a day or more discussing the historical errors and fabrications in the DaVinci Code. But let’s focus in on the history that involves our faith. According to the history laid out in the DaVinci Code, our faith in Jesus as both man and God is a sham. Our Bible and the belief that Jesus Christ is the resurrected Son of God is a con-job pulled off by the Roman Emperor and the Roman Catholic Church in the 4th century. And the Vatican knows this and to this day they are keeping the secret – but thankfully, a secret sect of those in the know have hidden the truth about Jesus in famous works of art and crypts in Europe. [But this is just fiction, right? Remember that the descriptions of these things is accurate, says Brown. And he is getting his ideas from others decades before who do not claim that this is fiction.]

Here are the significant revisions of history in the plot of the Code …

  1. Before Constantine came to power in the early 4th century, the official religion of the Roman Empire was pagan sun-worship. Pagans religion had a balanced approach to life because they worshipped gods and goddesses. (Of course Dan Brown misses the fact that the cult of Sol Invictus and Mithraism was even more male-oriented that he claims Christianity is).
  2. Emperor Constantine unified Rome by imposing his own version of Christianity. His new official religion was the cement that he used to solidify the factions within the crumbling Roman Empire. He chose Christianity because he was a good businessman who could pick a winning horse. And the way Constantine pulled off this feat was to assemble the bishops of the church to a council at Nicaea and rewrite Christian faith and history.
  3. Before the Council of Nicaea, Jesus was viewed by his followers as a prophet who was only human and not divine. Here’s the excerpt from the book on page 233 where all of this is “revealed” … [Read excerpt from p. 233]

Don’t Know Much About History … In this case and in many other examples, the DaVinci Code suffers from anachronism. Brown uses terms and refers to events and persons and institutions as if they all existed at the same time and were always the same. For example, the “catholic” church in the 4th century did not mean what we mean by catholic church …

  • The word “catholic” means universal and was used of the church worldwide and not just the Roman Catholic Church. In the 4th century, there were five major cities that represented the centers of the church: Alexandria, Antioch, Rome, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. The other cities would have been greatly offended by the suggestion that catholic church was particularly “Roman.”
  • If Constantine really wanted to unify the Empire, his plan didn’t work because The Roman Empire was divided into eastern and western regions in 395 – just sixty years after his death.
  • The term Catholic – as we commonly use it – came about in 1054, after a breach between the East and West regions of the universal church, the term Catholic became associated with Rome and Orthodox with Constantinople. So it isn’t correct for Brown to say that the only established sacred channel is the Roman Catholic Church – there’s no such thing in the 4th century.
  • And there cannot be a Vatican power base. It wasn’t until 1377, the Vatican became the official residence of the Roman pope.
  • The other cities were invaded by Arabs and Turks in the 7th century, then In 1453, the Turks invaded Constantinople leaving Rome as the most important center of the Catholic church.

Who Was Constantine and What Did He Do? Constantine is an important person in the history of Christianity. He isn’t a saint, but he certainly isn’t the calculating dictator he is portrayed as by the DaVinci Code. Before Constantine, Christians suffered one of the most severe persecutions in history at the hands of Emperor Diocletian. This started in 303 when Diocletian issued an edict ordering that the meeting-places of Christians be demolished, their sacred books burned, and the Christians stripped of civil rights and honors.

  1. Within this context, Constantine had a spiritual revelation of some sort at the Battle of Milvian Bridge in 312. He saw a cross in the sky and was told that this sign would lead him to victory. Constantine does worship the Invincible Sun and he is a religious person. Whether he truly had a vision is questionable, but it is important to what happens next.
  2. Constantine, who is now emperor, ends the unfavorable attitude toward Christians and issued the Edict of Milan in 313 that legalized Christianity. Note that he didn’t make it the official religion – he simply tolerates it and ends the persecution.
  3. Constantine is a sort of friend to the Christians and he takes an interest in the welfare of Christians, no doubt due to his religious experience at Milvian. So when a big argument erupts in the Eastern church, Constantine assembles the Council of Nicea in 325. He is doing what all Roman emperors do – they take charge. Romans don’t like trouble and disorder. So he rounds all these church leaders up and gets them to work out their problem. This sets the precedent for ecumenical councils.
  4. There’s debate over whether Constantine was a Christian. He was baptized on his deathbed in 337. It was common to be baptized just before death. I doubt that the baptism was forced on Constantine as DaVinci Code claims. Why would Constantine force all the empire to become Christian and he himself remain a pagan?

What Was Nicea and Why Does It Matter? But let’s focus on this Council of Nicea for a moment. What was it all about? Remember that the Christians were persecuted before 313. Persecuted Christians have little time to argue. They are busy trying to protect each other and encourage the faith under fire. But after Constantine lifts the persecution, some matters of debate surface.

  1. There was no disagreement as to whether or not Christ was divine. Brown claims that before Nicea Jesus’ followers regarded Jesus as a human prophet but not the Son of God. And Nicea was where they voted on the position that Jesus was divine. This is dead wrong! Setting aside the history of the first century and Scripture, it is impossible to even read the history of the Council of Nicea in this way and understand it. Even an atheist could not rightfully contend that this is what happened at Nicea.
  2. The debate did not involve an up or down vote on Jesus’ divinity, but instead focused on a rather technical understanding of how Jesus was divine. Everyone agreed that Jesus was the Son of God, but in what sense was he? Arius contended that Christ was lesser than God or younger than God. God is the father so he has to come first.
  3. Athanasius argued that Christ was of the same substance as God. He was concerned about the implications of saying that there was a time when there was not Son of God. So the father and son are co-eternal.
  4. Even though Arianism was popular the vote at Nicea was not a close vote. It was 218 to 2 in favor of Athanasius’ position.
  5. Along with this decision, they ratified many long-held beliefs of the Christian movement. But Nicea didn’t end the controversy. It continued. And there were more and more church councils; more and more debates …

And We Need to Know This Because … ?

  1. In our age, people adopt any history that seems plausible. Mainly because of the brokenness of humanity. If the church cannot get along and is split into a thousand disagreeing factions, then why not believe a mock history that contends that all these so-called Christians are a sham.
  2. This is why it is good for us to know our history. Not just the first century, but even the second, third, fourth and so on. The early centuries were closer to the first century than us. We view the first century through the lenses of the centuries in-between – that cannot be helped – but if I know I have tinted glasses on, then I am aware of how ideas and thoughts have developed over time. This keeps us from making the anachronistic mistakes Dan Brown has made.
  3. We can learn from the struggles of early Christians; we learn from their courage and from their mistakes. One thing is true – they were not superhuman. Like us, they were ordinary people caught up in the work of God. Some were faithful and some were not.

When we notice how much the church changed when it went from being a persecuted group to being favored by the government we can learn a lot. Though it is wonderful that the church persecution was lifted by Constantine, the Christians were no less faithful to God when they were persecuted and outcast. We don’t have to have the permission of the government to be faithful to Christ. And so, if our nation or culture should ever disdain or persecute Christians, we can be just as brave and faithful as those Christians in the early centuries and brothers and sisters even now who are persecuted in places like Africa, the Middle East, Vietnam and Laos.And for us who enjoy favor and maybe even privilege as Christians we need to be very responsible with this favor and privilege. We dare not use this blessing as an opportunity to get our way or to indulge in controversial disputes that encourage non-believers to view Christ and the church negatively. Sure we will have problems that need to be worked out, but we need to do that with love and maturity. Even the sacrificial attitude of Jesus Christ who said to the power of Rome – 36Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” 37“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (John 18)

The Challenges of Difficult Commitments

Posted by on May 25, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

The above words were written of the Christian Barnabas. While not a perfect man (Galatians 2:13), he was an exceptionally good man. He was one of the few Jews in his age that could see God at work among people who were not Jews. Not only could he see God’s grace at work, but he could be delighted that God’s work was obviously being done among people who were not proselytes!

His exceptional commitment was obvious in four ways. (1) He was an encourager. He helped people come even closer to the Lord Jesus. (2) He was a “good man.” Knowing the Lord only magnified his commitment to being a “good man.” (3) He was full of the Holy Spirit. He encouraged God’s influence in his life. [See 1 Thessalonians 5:19.] (4) He was full of faith in God’s work in Jesus. Perhaps the reasons for his being a good man were found in these facts: (a) he did not resist God’s influence in his life, and (b) he encouraged within himself faith in God’s purposes in Jesus Christ.

Some commitments are fairly easy, and some commitments are extremely difficult. May I make five observations about hard commitments. [Commonly, hard commitments are commitments which are unpopular.] If a person is to make a hard commitment, there are five stages when he or she may encounter difficulty.

(1) Simply getting started, actually beginning.
(2) Continuing in the face of discouragement.
(3) Continuing in the reality of opposition.
(4) Knowing when to pass the torch to another.
(5) Knowing when you have achieved your goal.

The last two may not seem to belong in the list. However, hard commitments are usually commitments to something bigger than yourself. If that is true of your difficult commitment, inevitably it means you must know when to step aside. I always admired John because he knew someone greater than he would fulfill a greater purpose (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16; John 3:27-30). Fulfilling a personal goal to be useful to God’s purposes does not preclude passing the torch. We must never forget that God’s purposes do not begin and end with us! For us, thankfully, God’s purposes did not end in the first century. It is enough to aid God’s purpose without being God’s purpose! Never be deceived by your own arrogance! Lowliness blesses, but arrogance curses!

The Lord Knows What He Is Doing — Even When You Do Not

Posted by on May 21, 2006 under Sermons

Acts 8:1-3
Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.

Acts 9:1-19
Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened.

For almost all of us, life takes some very unexpected twists and turns. We think we have the present figured out only to confront an unexpected turn in life and have nothing figured out. We think we are prepared for the future and life takes a twist. The twist changes our future and we feel alarmingly unprepared. It is amazing how we can feel good about our lives and something happen that turns our lives completely around headed in a direction totally strange to us.

  1. Consider Saul (also known as Paul) as an example.
    1. His family sent him from Tarsus to Jerusalem at an early age to prepare for life by being a devout Jew. (Acts 22:3)
    2. Though he was not born in Palestine, he was conservative as a Jewish theologian, he spoke the language of the Jews in Palestine (Acts 21:40), and was accepted to study as a student under the finest Rabbi of his day, Gamaliel. (Acts 22:3)
      1. He was among the most advanced students of his day. (Galatians 1:13)
      2. He was quite zealous in his beliefs and devoted to the Jewish traditions. (Galatians 1:13)
    3. If ever a man knew he was right and was dedicated to his convictions, Paul was that man.
      1. There were certain things Paul knew beyond doubt or question.
      2. He knew God would work primarily through the people of Israel.
      3. He knew any threat to the nation of Israel was a threat against God’s work.
      4. He knew that Jews believing in Jesus’ resurrection and Messiahship was a serious internal threat to the people of Israel.
      5. He knew that the most important way to defend God’s work was to bring an end to people who believed in Jesus as the Christ.
      6. If that meant arresting, imprisoning, and killing Jewish brothers and sisters, that was okay.
    4. At this point in his life, if anyone told Saul/Paul:
      1. He would become the leading proponent of Christianity.
      2. He would work among the gentiles principally as Christ’s apostle to the gentiles.
      3. His primary work among Jewish believers would be trying to get Jewish believers to accept gentile believers.
      4. Never, never, never would he have believed or accepted any of that.

  2. What did Paul understand that completely turned his life around?
    1. He certainly understood that Jesus was factually raised from the dead–that was the first thing he understood on the Damascus Road.
    2. He certainly understood that Jesus was the Messiah the Jews had anticipated for centuries.
      1. In his own defense before Agrippa, he said he was told these things by Jesus:
        Acts 26:14-19 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.’ So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision …
    3. I submit to you that Paul saw and understood something else.
      1. It was not something newly discovered, but something newly understood.
      2. He realized that God’s intention from the beginning was universal–it was to save all people.
      3. He realized that Israel was only a vehicle God used to achieve his purpose, not a destination for God’s purpose.
      4. There was lots of reason for that understanding:
        1. To Abraham, God said:
          Genesis 12:3 “And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”
          Genesis 22:18 “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”
        2. To Isaac, God said:
          Genesis 26:4 I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven, and will give your descendants all these lands; and by your descendants all the nations of the earth shall be blessed
        3. To Jacob, God said:
          Genesis 28:14 Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
        4. Centuries later Paul wrote to the congregations in Galatia:
          Galatians 3:8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.”

  3. To make a point, let me share with you one of the most horrible experiences I have endured in my life to this time.
    1. A few months after we returned from West Africa in 1974, I had a serious case of reverse culture shock.
      1. Reverse culture shock is basically a reaction to your own culture to which you return.
        1. You feel like you do not fit in your culture, that you do not belong in your own country, and that your life is irrelevant to your work and your context for living.
        2. There is an overwhelming feeling of unimportance and insignificance.
        3. You feel undeserving of everything and wish to withdraw from life.
        4. You are scared and feel like there is no direction your life can take that will be important again.
        5. While I never felt suicidal, I often thought of how much better off my family and the church would be if I did not even exist.
      2. To give you some idea of how severe this situation was, let me share some very clear memories with you.
        1. It happened on a Sunday evening just before evening assembly.
        2. It was so obvious that something was wrong that an elder who was a close personal friend asked me, “Is something wrong? Is something going on?”
        3. In the space of one hour, I had severe stage fright, was extremely scared, and did not wish to be around people.
      3. The severe aspect of this experience lasted about three months.
        1. I was so depressed that it amazes me that Joyce would be around me.
        2. I withdrew in every way I could.
        3. There were some days I went to the church building in the morning and could not place my hand on the door to go in.
        4. I literally remember being in the pulpit once and consciously deciding whether to continue or whether to walk out the door and disappear.
      4. In no way would I ever wish to endure that experience again!
        1. I would not willingly go back to it under any condition I have experienced.
        2. Yet, I am happy I had the experience.
        3. I could not count the number of times that experience had been of help to others who were discouraged.
        4. I am delighted with the ways it equipped me, but I would not wish to endure it again.

  4. I am not comparing myself to Paul–there is no comparison, but I am confident that Paul would tell you if he could that he never wished to endure the Damascus Road experience again.
    1. That experience made a man who thought that he was committed to God and was right realize that he had not been committed to God and was horribly mistaken.
      1. Instantly he knew he had helped kill people who were devoted to God, people who had understanding and faith.
      2. Instantly he knew that his faith was founded on his knowledge and not his God.
      3. Instantly he realized he had substituted his understanding for God’s purposes.
      4. Instantly he knew he was horribly wrong.
      5. Instantly a very independent man became a truly humbled, helpless man–he who doubted nothing for three days became a man who deeply doubted himself
    2. This man who was truly an expert in Judaism by training was selected by the resurrected Jesus himself to be Jesus’ principal messenger to people who were not Jews.
      1. How ironic!
      2. The man who wanted nothing to do with people who refused to be Jewish proselytes became the man who in kindness, sacrifice, and patience sought to lead idol worshippers to Jesus!

  5. Let me call your attention to some important lessons.
    1. Lesson one: realize all physical miracles are temporary.
      1. Every person Jesus fed was hungry again–the next day!
      2. Every sick person Jesus healed came to the end of physical life eventually.
      3. Every dead person Jesus raised from the dead died again.
      4. In Jesus seek much more than the temporary and follow him for a greater reason than “what you can do for me right now”
    2. Lesson two: never forget that God can teach us great lessons through bad experiences.
      1. Bad experiences do not mean God has abandoned us.
      2. The only way truly to understand that God is bigger than evil is to place your confidence in God as you endure a bad experience.
      3. Some critical lessons in being God’s person can not be taught if we have only good experiences.
    3. Lesson three: some of the most important lessons God ever will teach you will be through your bad experiences.
      1. The most powerful testimony for Jesus Christ you will ever give to struggling people will be in the context of “been there and done that.”
      2. If we are genuinely sincere about calling people out of worldliness into Jesus Christ, we must relate to the people we call.
        1. We cannot be a people who have never experienced hardship.
        2. We must be a people who know what struggle is about.
        3. People will not be impressed with a Savior who refuses to involve himself in human struggles.
        4. People will be impressed with a Savior who is not afraid of human struggle and leads people through human struggle.
        5. If you want God to make maximum use of you in this world, (a) accept hardships and (b) never stop learning from your bad experiences.

Paul would tell you God can forgive any sin you can repent of. He would also tell you it is always possible to begin again.

1 Timothy 1:12-16 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.

Will you let Christ minister to you?

Why Would Anyone Endure So Much?

Posted by on May 18, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

From a materialistic perspective, Paul went from “having it made” to “losing everything.” Before he became a Christian, he walked with the powerful. After he became a Christian, he walked with the outcasts and oppressed. Yet, his attitude of compassion and gratitude was amazing. Though he suffered much, he never stopped rejoicing!

Consider his encouragements to the congregation in Thessalonica: For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed-God is witness-nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. (1 Thessalonians 2:5-8)

Listen to his words when God refused to give him relief: Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. (2 Corinthians 12:7-9)

Why did Paul accept enormous loss? (1) He appreciated God’s forgiveness. (2) He valued what God did in Jesus Christ. (3) He wanted to be part of the eternal.

Why do you endure suffering in order to belong to Jesus Christ?

Your Kingdom Come

Posted by on May 14, 2006 under Sermons

Daniel 2:13-45 So the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain; and they looked for Daniel and his friends to kill them. Then Daniel replied with discretion and discernment to Arioch, the captain of the king’s bodyguard, who had gone forth to slay the wise men of Babylon; he said to Arioch, the king’s commander, “For what reason is the decree from the king so urgent?” Then Arioch informed Daniel about the matter. So Daniel went in and requested of the king that he would give him time, in order that he might declare the interpretation to the king. Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, so that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his friends would not be destroyed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven; Daniel said, “Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever, For wisdom and power belong to Him. “It is He who changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings; He gives wisdom to wise men And knowledge to men of understanding. “It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, And the light dwells with Him. “To You, O God of my fathers, I give thanks and praise, For You have given me wisdom and power; Even now You have made known to me what we requested of You, For You have made known to us the king’s matter.” Therefore, Daniel went in to Arioch, whom the king had appointed to destroy the wise men of Babylon; he went and spoke to him as follows: “Do not destroy the wise men of Babylon! Take me into the king’s presence, and I will declare the interpretation to the king.” Then Arioch hurriedly brought Daniel into the king’s presence and spoke to him as follows: “I have found a man among the exiles from Judah who can make the interpretation known to the king!” The king said to Daniel, whose name was Belteshazzar, “Are you able to make known to me the dream which I have seen and its interpretation?” Daniel answered before the king and said, “As for the mystery about which the king has inquired, neither wise men, conjurers, magicians nor diviners are able to declare it to the king. However, there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days. This was your dream and the visions in your mind while on your bed. As for you, O king, while on your bed your thoughts turned to what would take place in the future; and He who reveals mysteries has made known to you what will take place. But as for me, this mystery has not been revealed to me for any wisdom residing in me more than in any other living man, but for the purpose of making the interpretation known to the king, and that you may understand the thoughts of your mind. You, O king, were looking and behold, there was a single great statue; that statue, which was large and of extraordinary splendor, was standing in front of you, and its appearance was awesome. The head of that statue was made of fine gold, its breast and its arms of silver, its belly and its thighs of bronze, its legs of iron, its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. You continued looking until a stone was cut out without hands, and it struck the statue on its feet of iron and clay and crushed them. Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. This was the dream; now we will tell its interpretation before the king. You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory; and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and has caused you to rule over them all. You are the head of gold. After you there will arise another kingdom inferior to you, then another third kingdom of bronze, which will rule over all the earth. Then there will be a fourth kingdom as strong as iron; inasmuch as iron crushes and shatters all things, so, like iron that breaks in pieces, it will crush and break all these in pieces. In that you saw the feet and toes, partly of potter’s clay and partly of iron, it will be a divided kingdom; but it will have in it the toughness of iron, inasmuch as you saw the iron mixed with common clay. As the toes of the feet were partly of iron and partly of pottery, so some of the kingdom will be strong and part of it will be brittle. And in that you saw the iron mixed with common clay, they will combine with one another in the seed of men; but they will not adhere to one another, even as iron does not combine with pottery. In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever. Inasmuch as you saw that a stone was cut out of the mountain without hands and that it crushed the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver and the gold, the great God has made known to the king what will take place in the future; so the dream is true and its interpretation is trustworthy.”

This nation [U.S.A.] is not eternal. No nation, no empire, no form of human political control has been eternal. The person who places his or her hope on making any political situation permanent places his or her hope on that which is certain to cease to exist.

I love this nation. I love the freedoms it gives us. I love the lifestyle it makes possible. We are richly blessed because this nation exists.

Yet, as much as I love this nation, I know it is not permanent. There was a time when we were protected by the oceans on our east and west coast. That time no longer exists. There was a time when we were protected by our enormous wealth. That time no longer exists. There was a time when we were protected by our superior technology. That time no longer exists. There was a time when there were many more people in the world who loved us rather than hated us. That time may no longer exist.

As good as things are in this nation, it is not eternal. While this is certainly no prophecy, the time will come [if time continues] when this nation no longer exists as a nation in a form that we recognize and appreciate. I have no idea when that will be, but it will be.

  1. If we look back, we can see the truth of the future in realities of the past.
    1. I have no doubt that it came as quite a shock to King Nebuchadnezzar that there would be a future in which the Babylonian Empire not only did not exist, but was an unknown except for historical reference.
      1. After all, he was the king of kings, and there was no one who could rival or challenge his empire!
      2. He controlled the known civilized world of his time!
        1. He had his ups and downs.
        2. Yet, in the end he triumphed.
      3. With all his considerable accomplishments, the time came when his empire ceased to exist.
    2. His capital of his empire was in the region we now call Iraq.
      1. Ask the men who now rotate out of that area about the poverty of the people.
      2. The area that was once magnificent beyond our imagination is magnificent no longer.
      3. I can surely understand how Nebuchadnezzar in the height of his power could look over his incredible city and think to himself, “We will be great and powerful forever!”
      4. That city which was once an invincible double walled wonder is now a pile of sand.

  2. When people of the ancient world including the New Testament world thought of kingdoms, they thought in terms of a great empire that exercised unquestionable control over a large region through the leadership of an incredible king.
    1. People thought of:
      1. Magnificent capital cities.
      2. Large regions of geography.
      3. Rule by control that was enforced by power.
      4. Invincible, well-equipped armies.
    2. Yet, people’s thoughts of “kingdom” were not God’s thoughts of kingdom.
      1. God would establish a kingdom.
      2. However, God’s kingdom:
        1. Would have no magnificent capital.
        2. Would not be measured in geographical terms.
        3. Would not be ruled by the power of control.
        4. Would have no army.
        5. Would be eternal.
    3. I want you to listen to some scriptures that most of you know well.
      1. The first was given by Jesus when he taught his Jewish audience how to pray correctly.
        Matthew 6:8-10 So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. ‘Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
      2. The second declared the core of John the Baptist’s message.
        Matthew 3:2 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
      3. The third declared the core of Jesus’ message when he began his ministry.
        Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
    4. Question:
      1. Obviously, the first century Jewish audiences heard God’s kingdom is close often in John the Baptist’s messages and in Jesus’ messages.
        Matthew 4:23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.
        Matthew 10:7 [the limited commission] And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
        Luke 10:8,9 [the sending out of the 70] Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’
        Mark 1:14,15 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
        Luke 11:19,20 And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
        Luke 21:31 So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near.
      2. The question: When a Jewish audience heard the words the kingdom of God, what did they think?
        1. Did they think, “God is going to run these awful Roman troops out of our country and put us in control again.”
        2. Or, did they think what God thought [the unthinkable to the majority of Jews] “God is going to rule all people again, including those gentiles.”
        3. With the events that happened, it is pretty obvious that they did not think what God thought.

  3. When you hear the word “church,” what do you hear?
    1. Do you think:
      1. Human theology?
      2. Human tradition?
      3. Human behavior?
      4. God through inspired writers sent messages to many first century congregations.
      5. Was God’s primary emphasis on theology, on the way things are done, or on the way Christians behave?
      6. Stated in another way, is the primary focus of the kingdom of God on Christian theology, on Christian procedures, or on Christian conduct?
    2. When you hear the word “church,” do you hear “the kingdom of God”?
      1. When you hear “the kingdom of God” do you hear control by exerting power?
      2. Or, when you hear “the kingdom of God” do you hear God governing by the compassion of forgiveness?

In forgiveness there is peace and hope. In control there is suffocation and defeat.

Firing the Canon

Posted by on under Sermons

Check out Chris’ DaVinci Code blog.

No, I haven’t misspelled “cannon.” Cannon’s are of course the armament of choice on a pirate ship. Canon is another word entirely. “Canon” is a Greek loan word meaning list. For our discussion today, canon is the list books that make of the Bible. Keep in mind that our Bible is a book of books – but which books? That’s the question that the canon answers. The Bible as it is known today – The Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament – these are the canonical (or by the list) books for Christians – and even for non-Christians, so that when anyone today refers to the Bible they understand which books are included in “the Bible.”

But where did this canonical list come from? In particular where did the New Testament collection of books derive? Did they have the New Testament in the first century? Did they have it in the second? Who put it together? Is there good reason for these 27 books? Could there ever be a 28th or 29th or more?

There are some who seriously question both the formation and the content of the New Testament canon. The DaVinci Code runs with the idea and uses it to form an important piece of the conspiracy that forms the novel. I want to consider two statements made by one the characters on page 231 …

1) “The Bible did not fall magically from the clouds.”
2) “History has never had a definitive version of the book.”

Statement 1 is true. But that doesn’t mean the Bible is only a product of man, and not of God – as though God had nothing at all to do with it.

Statement 2 is false. History does have a definitive version and it is what we now have. There is a process that leads to the formation of the New Testament and although the New Testament may not have been defined in the first century and even into the second century (definitively) that is only because it is under development. But this developmental process does not justify The DaVinci Code character Teabing’s statement …

“Who chose which gospels to include?” Sophie asked.
“Aha!” Teabing burst in with enthusiasm … “The Bible, as we know it today, was collated by the pagan Roman emperor Constantine the Great.”

This revelation leads to the novel’s contention that there has been a great cover-up — “The Con of Man.” And the modern church supports this cover-up and the Bible is the tool of this conspiracy. This is among one of the most laughable contentions in the entire book. If the character that stated this were being depicted a conspiracy nut with a foil hat I could have suspended disbelief long enough to get on with the story. But this character is supposed to be an enlightened and respected scholar who knows the truth! This claim is utterly ludicrous – even if one rejects the authority of the Bible, a good understanding of history would not accept this interpretation of the historical development of the canon. But I must remind myself that The DaVinci Code is just a work of fiction, yes?

Well, yes and no. Remember that Dan Brown has brought together elements of many debates and smaller contentions to build his novel. Even though most would not advance the idea that the Bible as we know it is a Constantinian Con-Job, there is indeed serious scholarship that vigorously questions the canonical books – they want to “fire the canon!” (Get it, double wordplay!) For example, Dr. Elaine Pagels, a professor at Princeton University and an in-demand speaker on the subject of Gnostic Gospels, contends that the Bible as we know it is the result of the increasing institutionalism of the church. The Gnostic texts and other Christian texts were suppressed after the institutionalism of the church in the fourth century. She comments on The DaVinci Code: “What I find interesting about Dan Brown’s book is that it raises a very important question: If they – meaning the leaders of the church – suppressed so much of early Christian history, what else don’t we know about? What else is there to be known? And as a historian, I think it’s a really important question because the answer means a great deal.” (from U.S. News and World Report Special Edition, “Secrets of the DaVinci Code,” p. 30)

So, How Did We Get the Bible? If the Bible didn’t fall out of heaven with a tag stating “Thou Shalt Copy” then how did we come by it? Is it a conspiracy? Has it been edited to the extent that we should call it an unreliable forgery? How did we get the Bible? The answer may surprise you – only because the answer is so simple that it makes good sense. The Bible as we know it is the end of a lengthy process of development that takes place in five overlapping stages. (The following is based on Luke T. Johnson, The Writings of the New Testament, Fortress Press, pp. 530 – 548.)

  1. COMPOSITION: The Old Testament is the Scripture of the earliest Christians. In the worship and preaching of the apostles, they use the Old Testament. When Paul says that all Scripture is inspired he means the Old Testament. The New Testament books are in the process of being written. They cannot be written before the events they reference. Along with the New Testament writings, there are other documents written toward the end of the first century (and these are not Gnostic gospels). They include the Didache, a manual of church discipline, and 1 Clement (AD 95), a letter from a well-respected church leader. Some writings and letters exist as parts of other New Testament books. For example, the letter from the apostles in Jerusalem in Acts 15.

  2. USAGE: The texts of the New Testament are not written for private devotion. They were used publicly and read in worship. Paul’s letters are meant to be read in churches (and note that he wrote more than what we have – there are other letters to the church in Corinth and a letter to the Laodecians that he mentions in Colossians 4:16 – After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea.). The documents, like Paul’s letters, are circulated through multiple congregations. The epistles to the Romans, Galatians, and even Corinthians are regional in nature. So are Ephesians and 1 Peter. They are addressed to “churches.”

  3. COLLECTION: Certain writings are copied and collected among the congregations. Writings intended for a particular group are recognized as having general benefit. Paul’s letters are mentioned in 2 Peter 3:15-16 in a way that suggests that they are commonly known. In the year 95, the letter from Clement (1 Clement) mentions a collection of Paul’s letters [47:2-4].

  4. SELECTION: With so many writings in the Christian movement, there is a need to select which writings may be used alongside the Old Testament as part of worship and church formation. The question is not whether certain documents deserve to be written and/or read. It is a process of sifting out which documents are best and on the same par as Scripture. The process is not dominated by an official counsel. It is a dynamic debate and there large agreement on the part of many. Of course there are some who go too far. Marcion decides to throw out the entire Old Testament and some of the Gospels. His scheme is rejected. A fellow named Tatian (AD 170) decided to synthesize the four gospels into one and it is called the Diatesseron. But his idea though popular in Syria, is rejected just about everywhere else. Other books like the Shepherd of Hermas and Epistle of Barnabas are considered good for believers to read, but shouldn’t be read in worship. And some Gospels, like the Gospel of Judas, are just out and out rejected – not by an official decree, but through the usage of churches – churches that are persecuted and do not wield kingdom-like authority. In fact, the persecution is one reason for the selection or ranking process. When the persecutors are confiscating collections of Scripture, the churches need to know which books should be saved and which can be handed over.

  5. RATIFICATION: This, says Johnson, is the final stage. The only one we can see for ourselves and the least important of them all. The writings that have gained acceptance in churches worldwide are officially acknowledged on more than one occasion. And it is really not that difficult of a vote. They simply made official what the church had known and practiced for a few centuries.

Who chose which gospels (books) to include? 1) So in some sense, the texts chose themselves because they cried out for inclusion in the definitive canon. 2) God’s people/the church. The church recognized which New Testament writings were inspired and on par with Scripture and which were not. The church is formed by the gospel and the church recognizes the Gospel in the texts that make up the New Testament. It is not just that the Holy Spirit worked in the writers of these texts for inspiration, but the same Holy Spirit worked (and still works) within the church to recognize the word of God.
I don’t think a truly lost book of the Bible will ever be found, but if it is the people of God will know that is Gospel – not because it will change anything, but because it will affirm the story of Jesus Christ.

What Is The Purpose of the Canon?

  • Spiritual Formation (Hebrews 4:12)
  • Rule of Faith (2 Timothy 3:16)
  • Equipping for good works (2 Timothy 3:16)

  • A Matter of Spiritual Maturity

    Posted by on May 11, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

    But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Ephesians 4:20-24)

    Acts 2:37 is Luke’s record of the response of Jews who were not Christians realizing they abandoned the Messiah. Ephesians 4:20-24 is Paul’s declaration to gentile Christians. The first had not yet become Christians. The second had been Christians for a while.

    Those who were not Christians reacted in terror when they realized they abandoned God’s Messiah. The Christians were to accept the responsibility of their privilege.

    The fear of terror is not to be confused with the reverence of faith. Both proceed from a profound sense of awe. Yet, the first proceeds from an understanding. The second proceeds from a sense of gratitude. The immature are terrified. The mature are grateful. To oppose God is terrifying. To be blessed by God fills the person with gratitude.

    Terror in anticipation of punishment is insufficient to sustain a lifetime of devotion. Even the finest people get weary of terror and eventually rebel. Gratitude sustains a lifetime of devotion. Time makes gratitude deeper, richer. He or she who is grateful only becomes more grateful as the sense of privilege deepens.

    It is one thing to stand helplessly in a sense of need generated by acknowledged failure. It is quite another to accept the responsibility of privilege. Being in Christ is being a new creature. New creatures exist by God’s forgiveness through Christ Jesus. Realizing what God did and does for us in Christ produces gratitude. Gratitude produces responsibility.

    It is grossly insufficient merely to say, “Thank you, thank you, thank you, Lord!” It is only appropriate for new creatures to live and act like new creatures. Knowing Jesus’ identity does not terrify you before God. Knowing Jesus’ identity makes you willingly responsible to live and act like the forgiven person God made you.

    Thus, new creatures do not deceive. They get over anger quickly. Instead of exploiting people, they help people. They speak as godly people when they talk instead of speaking crudely as the ungodly. People are encouraged by their words instead of being discouraged. They are committed to encouraging the work of God’s Spirit within them instead of causing God’s Spirit grief. They refuse to be ruled by negative, ungodly emotions. Instead they want God’s forgiveness to make their hearts tender.

    Do you serve God in failure’s terror or gratitude’s responsibility? It’s a matter of spiritual maturity.

    Those in the Know

    Posted by on May 7, 2006 under Sermons

    Check out Chris’ DaVinci Code blog.

    Fact, Fiction, and Faith
    by Chris Benjamin

    The heavily anticipated movie adaptation of “The DaVinci Code” opens this month on May 19. The book and movie are works of fiction, but they raise issues of faith. Also, the author of the book claims that many of the historical issues addressed in his story are matters of fact.

    The DaVinci Code is just one example of our culture’s current interest in spirituality and Jesus Christ. There are of course many views of Jesus and spirituality being asserted. Some of them are fact and some are fiction.

    How do we separate fact from fiction? How important is faith? For the next few weeks, these questions will be a part of the preaching and worship. We will listen to the debates and discussions in our culture over the identity and history of Jesus and his church. We will respond to these so that we might be all the more certain of what we believe so we can help others come to know our Lord Jesus Christ. The questions we will seek to answer include?

  • Was Jesus married?
  • Who was Mary Magdalene?
  • How did we get the Bible?
  • Are there lost books of the Bible that reveal secret truth?
  • Has the church suppressed the truth about Jesus?
  • Who were the Gnostics? Were they the true followers of Jesus?

    These are tough questions and they are the sort of questions being raised by various voices in our culture. This isn’t the time to get anxious or feel threatened. The truth is that this is a great opportunity for Christ’s disciples to talk about and live out the differences among fact, fiction, and faith.

  • movie posterI recently received an email asking, “What is our stance on The DaVinci Code?” Why would we need a stance on The DaVinci Code? If you haven’t read the book or intend to see the movie next week I don’t want to spoil the plot for you, but the story really isn’t about Leonardo DaVinci so much as it is about Jesus Christ.

  • The website for the movie gives you a hint – www.sodarktheCONofman.com
  • One of the characters in the book states at a critical moment in the plot that “almost everything our fathers taught us about Christ is false.” (p. 235)

    I want to assure you that this isn’t the time for Christians to get anxious or lose hope. This isn’t the reason to boycott theatres or burn books. However, we needn’t ignore what’s going on. Our culture seems to have a new interest in knowing Jesus Christ, so we ought to be cheerfully and optimistically engaging in the conversation.

    book coverOn his website, the author of Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown, answers common questions …

    HOW MUCH OF THIS NOVEL IS TRUE? – The Da Vinci Code is a novel and therefore a work of fiction. While the book’s characters and their actions are obviously not real, the artwork, architecture, documents, and secret rituals depicted in this novel all exist (for example, Leonardo Da Vinci’s paintings, the Gnostic Gospels, Hieros Gamos, etc.). These real elements are interpreted and debated by fictional characters. While it is my belief that some of the theories discussed by these characters may have merit, each individual reader must explore these characters’ viewpoints and come to his or her own interpretations. My hope in writing this novel was that the story would serve as a catalyst and a springboard for people to discuss the important topics of faith, religion, and history.

    Let’s take Brown’s suggestion to heart and “discuss the important topics of faith, religion, and history.” And this might be a good moment to point out that not everything about the artwork, architecture, (and especially) the documents and secret rituals depicted in the novel all exist. What about these Gnostic Gospels for example? And who are these Gnostics anyway? Why do they write their name with a silent “G”?

    One of the characters in the novel describes the Gnostics and their so-called Gospels thus …
    “Fortunately for historians … some of the gospels that [Emperor] Constantine attempted to eradicate managed to survive. The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1950’s hidden in a cave near Qumran in the Judean desert. And of course, the Coptic Scrolls in 1945 at Nag Hammadi … These documents speak of Christ’s ministry in very human terms … The scrolls highlight glaring historical discrepancies and fabrications, clearly confirming that the modern Bible was compiled and edited by men who possessed a political agenda …” (p. 234)

    Here’s the problem when fictional characters discuss supposed facts: the line between fact and fiction gets very fuzzy. We will talk more about the “documents” and the history of the Bible in a future sermon, but let’s set the record straight on a few items:

    1. This is picayune, but the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, not the 1950’s. And the Nag Hammadi documents are not scrolls – they are papyrus books or codices. But hey, I’m just being nerdy, so we’ll let that go.
    2. A little more significant is the fact that many of the Dead Sea Scrolls were written 200 years before Christ. They are important because they contain the earliest known versions of certain OT books. They actually confirm much of what we have always known about the Old Testament and the Bible. But there’s nothing in them about Christ or Christianity (unless you count Isaiah). These are Jewish documents, not Christian. So we can factor the Dead Sea Scrolls out of the discussion because there certainly isn’t any gospel describing Christ’s ministry in human terms anywhere in the collection.
    3. The Nag Hammadi Coptic documents are another matter. They do contain material about Jesus Christ. Many of the documents claim to contain secret teachings from Jesus. The documents were written and hidden in the 4th century AD and some of the original texts they are based on were written in the mid-2nd century at the earliest. This hardly represents “the true basis” of Christianity. Furthermore, the Gnostic documents hardly describe Jesus’ ministry in “very human terms” – rather, they do all they can to describe Jesus as anything but human. This makes sense when you understand what the Gnostics believed …

    Who are the Gnostics?

    • Gnosticism is a historical term for various mystical groups interested in the pursuit of “special knowledge” (gnosis) as the central goal of life. The word Gnostic comes from the Greek word “knowledge”
    • They believed in the following basic principles …
      1. The material world is evil. In their creation myth, the God that created the material was a corrupt God known as the Demiurge. The material world is separated from the higher spiritual realm by levels of divine being known as Aeons. The true God rules above all of these. All matter is evil and our flesh bodies have trapped the spiritual part of us. We are caged in our own bodies.
      2. So, the divine spark in humanity has to be set free. It needs to be rekindled and released from this body of flesh. (As you will notice, some of these ideas persist in common philosophies about the relationship of body and spirit.) A group that believes in this, such as the Gnostics, would not want to describe Christ as more human.
      3. Jesus, according to Gnostic teaching, is the Gnostic redeemer who brings the secret wisdom from the true God, thus salvation depends on knowing the secret wisdom. If you know the right things then you are saved. If you are “in the know” then you can escape the evil material world.
      4. Jesus then is very different from the Jesus that the apostles knew and preached. In fact, in the Gnostic scheme, Jesus was resurrected before he died. That is to say that his divine nature departed the “human shell” before he was crucified.

        Dan Brown has not developed original material as the basis of his thriller. He is drawing off recent studies and old conspiracies that view Gnostics as a peaceful, nature-loving, egalitarian strand of Christianity that was suppressed by institutional Christendom. This reinforces the perceptions of some that Christianity is hierarchical, patriarchical, and oppressive. Certainly the history of Christianity has abuses and those who claim to be Christ’s followers have not always represented Him. We need to respond to that and we will in a few weeks, but it’s a stretch to characterize the Gnostics in terms of modern views of tolerance and acceptance. In fact, their own documents suggest otherwise. For instance, …

      5. The Gnostics were anti-Jewish. Many of the documents are openly antagonistic toward the Old Testament and Judaism. Many of the documents were written to disassociate Christianity from Judaism.
      6. The Gnostics are also elitist. They are certainly not inclusive or egalitarian. Brown would have us believe that Gnosticism celebrated the female divine and was affirming of women. Not hardly. Wisdom is regarded as feminine in some documents, but for a woman to participate in the secret wisdom she has to become like a man. Women are viewed as a problem in the Gnostic texts. They are often used to shame men. Gnostics are not holding hands singing “we are one in the spirit.” Rather, they make it clear that only the best will receive the secret wisdom that allows them to ascend to the spiritual realms. In other words, “they are the only ones going to heaven.”

    Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly to the world. I always taught in synagogues and in
    the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.”
    (John 18:20)

    What do we KNOW? Are we missing out on the secret wisdom? Are we missing the truth? Not hardly. What we know isn’t a secret and what we know has more hope! We know …

    1. The World is Good. When God created the world he declared more than once that it was good (Genesis 1). Certainly sin has marred the creation, but God has not discarded the creation. He is redeeming it. There is nothing evil about flesh. John 1 – The Word became flesh. It didn’t become a good idea, or a slogan, or a book, or a feeling. It became flesh. Things always go wrong when some group – Gnostics or otherwise – claim that creation and matter is either unimportant or corrupting.
    2. Salvation is by God’s grace. We are not saved because we have the secret password to get into heaven. We are not saved because we have performed all the tests. To do this is to put a claim on God. We are self-serving when we give in to the desire to produce a receipt to place before the heavenly throne and prove we are entitled to our turf in heaven. Paul is clear that salvation is by grace and not anything we have done or can do. We don’t get bragging rights (Ephesians 2:4-10).
    3. But our salvation isn’t just a lottery either. It has more of a purpose than that. Christ is trying to save us from the corruption that spoils the good creation. Christ living in us is what it means to be truly human and salvation is just as much about the cobblestone streets as it is the golden street. “I am crucified with Christ, yet I live but it isn’t me that lives, it is Christ living in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
    4. Jesus died and was resurrected. To deny this is to deny the core of our faith. He was resurrected not as a ghost or as a spirit, but with a body. He was seen and lived among witnesses for over a month after his resurrection. I would rather base my faith on the testimony of 500 witnesses that a secret wisdom passed around among the elite.
    5. The Gnostics rejected Judaism, and we reject Judaism to our loss. We haven’t always been good at this, but we need to regard Judaism as our roots. It is our heritage. The Old Testament was the Bible that Jesus read. Israel is the root into which we have been grafted. If you read Rom 11, you learn that God is going to save Israel thru us! We have a rich heritage of faith and do not have to establish what we believe by rejecting the past.
    6. The Gospel is for All! We are one in Christ. In Christ, there is no male or female, Jew or Greek, slave or free. (Galatians 3:28) This doesn’t mean that the differences go away; it just means that they don’t get us preference nor should they separate us. The wall dividing us has been torn down. (Ephesians 2) The Gnostics have a secret wisdom for the selected few, but we have the gospel and it is for everyone!

  • Because of Hope, We Endure

    Posted by on May 4, 2006 under Bulletin Articles

    Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

    Ask John Paul Hundley how fragile life is. Be prepared for a long talk. His unexpected need for by-pass surgery recently powerfully reminded him that life is very fragile. The lessons he learned from that experience combined with the lessons he remembered serve as the basis of much of his mission effort now.

    Life changes, sometimes quickly. It is amazing how quickly a health problem or a death can alter life irreversibly. One moment you are confident about your future as you think you are in full control. The next moment those plans are impossible and look ridiculous.

    Consider some of our arrogant presumptions.

    “I am in control of my life!”
    “I know what I am going to do with my life!”
    “I know what my future holds!”
    “What I make of myself is up to me!”

    Jesus once said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Life has two primary banks that receive deposits. Be careful about which you select to receive your deposits. One pays interest only during the years of physical existence. One pays its dividends after death.

    How much would the price of gasoline have to rise to alter your job/career dramatically? How much would the price of natural gas have to increase to make the temperature in your home fall or cause you to take cooler showers or baths? How scarce would water have to be for you to return to a single bathroom? How expensive would electricity have to be before we unplugged many of our technological advances?

    When we place our trust in the physical, life becomes more uncertain the longer we live. When we are young, we are easily deceived. Too commonly life is summed up in the words, “If I only had …” Then the day comes when we say, “If I could only do …” Then comes the time when we know having is meaningless and doing is pointless. Is it not fascinating to realize that advertisements concerning the “golden years” seek to explain what we are missing by using situations we never had?

    God informs us existence in this world is not what He intended. He also informs us that a life is coming that is what He intends. As certain as God exists, He assures us that existence exists! He assures us that this delightful, secure existence is worth the investment of this imperfect, insecure existence. We make this existence imperfect and insecure! He will make that existence delightful and secure!