A new creation is not the same thing as a new chance. A new life is not an enhanced or slightly modified version of your old life. New is completely new. To be a new creation is to carry within you the spirit of Jesus Christ. His nature confronts and aggressively opposes the sinful nature of your old self. A new creation does not seek justification for sin nor does it seek to provide refuge for it. The new creation hates sin! Do you hate sin? Are you ready and willing to fight the recurring temptations of the sinful nature of your old self? Or, are you apathetic and quick to celebrate the benefits of Christ’s grace and forgiveness for you before lifting a finger to oppose what you naturally should, if indeed you are a new creation? The new creation is not subtle. The new creation is of Jesus Christ and his Holy Spirit and therefore is one of power. Do you feel the power of the Holy Spirit warring with your old self? Do you feel the power of the Holy Spirit lifting your weak and feeble spiritual arms in order for the battle to carry on, allowing victory to be proclaimed for you and for Christ? Is there power in your faith? A new creation cannot be without it. The lack of power in your walk with Jesus Christ begs the question, “Do you know that your savior liveth?” To know that Jesus has saved is to know that your sinful nature has been uncovered and pronounced guilty, but by the grace of God has fallen on the head of the savior, Jesus Christ. To know that Jesus lives is to know that the nature of your old self has no more power over you. You no longer serve the flesh but Jesus. You are no longer mastered by sinful desires, for your Master has liberated you from the oppression of the old self, inaugurating the way of righteousness, truth and holiness in the name of Jesus Christ. Cry out to God for newness!
The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re reflecting on the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Read along with this series here.
From the beginning, the church has had questions concerning the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, these questions have often led to debate and division, ultimately fracturing the Church. While the debate continues among Christians concerning the precise nature of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, it is my belief that there are more important issues concerning the baptism, issues that edify and glorify the church in the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ rather than create divisive standards to outline the way in which all must undergo this baptism.
Whether an individual experiences the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the same way that the Apostles did in the Upper Room through the speaking of tongues or not, I believe that there are five truths that can validate the baptism being truly of the Holy Spirit and not simply a response based on tradition, emotion or presupposition.
These five truths are all based on the foundation of “power.” However, the power is not in the experience of the individual for self-glorification. Rather, these five truths glorify the power of God and God alone. For the next five weeks, we will be considering these truths.
- The Power of the Promise
- The Power of the Cross
- The Power of the Creator
- The Power of the Mission
- The Power of the Victory
The experience of being baptized in the Holy Spirit can vary depending on the individual but the truths that emerge upon being baptized must not and cannot differ. These are truths, and all who have been baptized by the spirit must proceed to build the new life in Jesus Christ upon these foundational pillars of power.
The Reflection Series for this month is adapted from Reasoning the Rest, which you can read or download from the main menu. This month, we’re discussing how we can trust the Bible as the inspired Word of God.
The Christian belief that the Bible is the inspired Word of God is rooted in four aspects of the Bible.
- The Consistency of the Message
- The Consistency of the Effect
- The Consistency of the Power
- The Consistency of the Promise
This week, let’s look at how the power of the Gospel helps us trust the Bible as God’s Word.
Humans have an innate desire for answers that corresponds with a desperate need to ask questions. Human history reveals that our accepted ideas about the world and its people vary drastically according to where and when we live. Depending on the culture we were brought up in, we develop certain expectations of ourselves as well as certain limitations. We all are raised aware that certain things are not possible and beyond our reach. The goals that evade us can be personal goals we strive to attain, but are limited by our natural and limited physical or mental ability. Or perhaps these goals could pertain to certain physical or mental obstacles that seem impossible to overcome or change, such as a physical or mental handicap.
While medicine and therapy are limited in their power to change, the miraculous characteristic of the Word of God is its consistent ability to create change where no change was possible. The Word of God has always been able to make a way where we humans confidently proclaimed no way existed. The Word of God makes the blind see, the lame walk, and broken receive restoration. The explanation for this power is that it comes not from the mind of humans with limited knowledge of the problem, but that it comes from the creator himself. The very One who created paradise, witnessed the Fall, brought forth the redemption for the Fall and has never removed his hand from what he loves. We humans are blessed with enormous knowledge and ability. However, only God can know all problems of all people in all nations throughout history. Only God can know the precise way to bring about the needed change in all of these strangers, uniting them in a common mission to heal the world in the power of his name and with the power of His Word. While the human heart is deeply self-absorbed and boastful, to suggest that man, rather than God, is somehow orchestrating the healing power of the Gospel seen in our world since the 1st century would surpass our most exaggerated heights of self-worth.
This reflection series, “The Impossible Religion,” reveals five specific problems that people have with the gospel of Jesus. These impossibilities arise when Christianity is a religion to achieve, rather than simply the “good news” of grace and redemption that will naturally transform us. Christianity outside of Christ’s redemption is in fact impossible, but with God nothing is impossible. For the next five weeks, we’ll go through Scriptures from five different areas of the Bible in order to confront these impossibilities:
In Mark 16, what Jesus had been promising all along had finally come true. The stone was rolled away and what he foretold would happen actually happened. He was risen. He was the Christ. He was who he said he was.
If, that is, you believe the Gospel account.
What happened on that third day is amazing, yet for many, impossible to believe. The idea that Jesus could resurrect himself and then appear for forty days teaching, speaking, eating and living in human form seems like a myth or fairytale: fun to talk about but foolish to have faith in.
The world we live in simply does not work that way. When we die, we die. But if you read the Gospel of Mark for fifteen chapters before reaching that final sixteenth chapter, you will have already encountered a Jesus who claims to be removed from this life and beyond our understanding of it. Throughout each of the four gospels Jesus consistently tells us that he is “The Life.”
Initial reactions to the resurrection often take two forms, one from the side of belief and the other from non-belief. Both are incorrect in their foundations.
For many Christians, the reading of the Passion narrative, ending in the empty tomb, is a tradition to honor and a story to recite. Reading about the Resurrection is similar to watching the end of “Sleeping Beauty.” How nice, we think, how romantic. Wouldn’t it be nice if life were really like that?
To my knowledge, no one has ever finished watching “Sleeping Beauty” saying, “Isn’t it great that that happened! How amazing! I wish I could have been there to see it!” If someone were to react that way, we would respond to them in judgmental, sympathetic and annoyed disbelief. We all know that “Sleeping Beauty” is a fairytale and we end the discussion there. We aren’t wrong for doing so, because we know that the story doesn’t claim to be true and to change our lives forever. It’s a story. That’s it.
There are many self-professing Christians who read Mark 16 in the same way they watch “Sleeping Beauty.” They read the story and feel nice and warm inside, but it never transcends the pages to impact their real lives. The purpose of “Sleeping Beauty” is to entertain, to tell a made-up story. The Gospels are different: they proclaim truth and promise change. The apostle Paul confronts this attitude in 1 Corinthians 15, telling is that if the tomb wasn’t actually empty, if the Resurrection did not occur in fact, then everything we do as Christians is not only without purpose but is harmful, foolish and pitiful. Living life under the belief that “Sleeping Beauty” is a true story would be something to be ashamed of, not proud. No one, at least to my knowledge, has faced death joyfully professing confidence in the story of “Sleeping Beauty.” Yet thousands, including eleven of the twelve original disciples of Jesus Christ, have died full of joy in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the story of the empty tomb.
Somehow, belief in the cross is easier than belief in the empty tomb. However, to stop at the cross makes the life of Jesus the story of a failed and dishonest teacher that does not deserve our attention or worship. There are many other teachers and wise men throughout history who did not make the outrageous claims of deity that Jesus did, and if he were not actually who he said he was we could follow the teachings of any one of them. However, to believe in the empty tomb means to acknowledge the life of Jesus Christ as he proclaimed it. He called himself “the way, the truth, the life,” even “the resurrection and the life,” and to believe in Jesus Christ means to believe in life beyond the tomb.
For non-believers, the main difficulty in believing in the empty tomb originates with distrust in the Gospels. This distrust which I myself displayed for many years comes from ignorance in the facts behind the four Gospel narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Non-believers see the Gospels as simply legends that were written many years after Jesus died, and the stories, including the Resurrection, came out of the desire to create a version of Jesus that was more what the writers wanted him to be and less what he actually claimed to be.
If one takes this view of the Gospels, we have to ask several questions. First, when were the Gospels written? Given the span of time separating the death of Jesus and the first account of the Gospels, was there sufficient time for “myth” or “legend” to arise? What would be the motivation for the writers to write such an account the way they did? Lastly, what if any incentive would there be in doing that for them personally?
First up is the issue of time. According to the most current historical and archaeological research, the general consensus is that they were written much closer to the life of Jesus than what most people believe. Since we are focusing on the Gospel of Mark it is sensible to discuss the most widely accepted view in its original date of composition.
Most scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark was written close to 20-25 years after the death of Jesus. For those of us outside the historical evidence arena, this might still seem like a long time passed beyond the actual events being recorded. However, when we look at the written accounts of prominent historical figures, like Alexander the Great, we find that the earliest account of his life was written close to 300 years after Alexander’s death. Yet, we believe that Alexander the Great lived and did the things we are taught he did. 1 Corinthians 15 has Paul receiving the story of Jesus– living, teaching, being crucified and rising from the dead on the third day– within five years of the crucifixion. Five years! In the historical context, that is barely a moment. To recount stories with accuracy given such a short period of elapsed time between the actual events and the recording of them is more than plausible.
Secondly, we must consider motivation and incentive. How would writing the Gospels affect the lives of the authors as individuals? Some imagine 21st century televangelists with white-toothed smiles and expensive suits, lining his pockets. From this perspective, the motivation to write these stories would be to materially benefit their own lives. But this is to completely neglect the realities of their world. For these men, to identify as a Christian was a death sentence.
To be Christian during the time when the Gospels were written meant to be threatened from all sides. Due to the horrifying persecution from men like Nero or Diocletian, Christians were motivated to construct the catacombs in Rome and the tunnel dwellings of Cappadocia, where they could feel at least a small sense of security in their worship and Christian lives. It is in this environment that the Gospel writers wrote their “stories.”
Not only were they heavily judged and persecuted outside of Israel, they were also fought from within as their Jewish brethren attempted for years to squelch the worship of Jesus Christ. Eventually one of the most notable preachers of the Gospel, Paul started as a prominent persecutor of the church. We now know through the historical records that all but one disciple of Jesus were executed for their belief and continued support of the Christian church and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
By writing the Gospels, these people were literally risking their lives, and many lost their lives.
No matter who you are, your life will be defined by what you believe about the empty tomb. Those who believe will understand that not even death is to be feared. Those who do not see this world as all there really is. The power of the Resurrection of Jesus is there for everyone to see and find, but the question to each person is, do you want to find it?