Sunday, May 06, 2018

After the Resurrection, Now What?

(This column originally appeared in The Town Talk on Sunday, May 6, 2018.)

Last month Christians around the globe celebrated the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the central tenet of Christianity. No matter what branch or what denomination, all Christians agree on this common belief, that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, was buried, and rose again to never die again, securing our salvation eternally!

The apostle Paul points to the centrality of the resurrection when he reminded the Corinthians of the Gospel he had preached to them. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, and then to the twelve.” (1 Cor 15:3-5 NASB)

Without a doubt, the resurrection of Jesus distinguishes Christianity from all other religions in the world.

But what happens after the resurrection?

That was the dilemma faced by the apostles themselves. They had seen the risen Christ on several occasions. And He had taught them over a period of 40 days (Acts 1:3), opening the Old Testament scriptures to them to show them how He fulfilled the prophecies (Luke 24:45). And He told them that they were to go into all the world to teach all the nations the very things He had taught them (Matt 28:18-20).

And then, He told them to wait!

That almost seems counter-intuitive! He gave them a Great Commission to change the world, to tell the greatest story ever told, but then He said to wait! What were they waiting for?

Jesus knew that they could not fulfill His command in their own strength. No matter how much enthusiasm, exuberance or excitement they had, that would all wane over time if they tried to accomplish the task in their own strength. So He promised to infuse them with an internal power source that would fuel their lives through the difficult days ahead.

That power source was His own Holy Spirit who would now live in them! It was prophesied throughout the Old Testament that God’s presence would one day not just rest on special individuals (prophets, priests, kings, etc) but would be poured out on all flesh (Is 40:5; Joel 2:28-29; Ezek 36:27, etc)!

And so it was that on the 50th day after the Resurrection that God fulfilled the prophecies and poured out His Spirit on all who believed! The Church was birthed in a moment, and all who believed received this precious promise to be baptized by God’s Spirit into the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13)!

What an amazing thing! In the Exodus from Egypt, God provided His people with an external guide, the Law! But in the Exodus from sin, God has now provided His people with an internal guide, the Holy Spirit, who writes His law on our hearts (Jer 31:33; Ezek 36:25-27; Heb 8:10; 10:16)! And gives us the power to live lives pleasing to Him!

So what’s after the resurrection? We have the command of Jesus to tell His story in the power of the Holy Spirit! And the good news is that God’s Holy Spirit can fill us every day! That’s why Peter wrote to the Galatians that they were to be continuously filled with the Holy Spirit! (See the original Greek of Eph 5:18.)

Every Christian can live filled with God’s Holy Spirit on an ongoing continual basis! As we worship Jesus in community (Eph 5:19), develop an attitude of gratitude (Eph 5:20) and seek to live in right relationship with others (Eph 5:20), we will find ourselves filled with less of us and more of Him!

That’s my goal, to live filled with the Spirit every day that I might be empowered by Him to tell His story. How about you?

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Who's the April Fool?

(This column originally appeared in The Town Talk on Sunday, April 1, 2018.)

My daughter Hope absolutely loves April Fools' Day! It’s like a national holiday to her because she loves to pull pranks. Over the years we’ve learned to be on our guard around her this time of the year as you never know what she’s got up her sleeve!

A couple of years back she called me, telling me between sobs that she had gotten into an accident on her way back to a college class. After asking if she was ok and then checking the status of the people in the other car I told her to wait right there, that I was on my way and that everything was going to be OK.

That’s when she exuberantly declared, “April Fools!” Boy did she get me good! My heart was pounding and it took me a few minutes to get my blood pressure down before I was able to laugh at her most recent success in pranking me.

Today, April 1st, Christians around the globe are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ! Due to the way that Easter is calculated (the first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox – thanks Council of Nicea!) the date changes each year, and for the first time since 1956 this year Easter falls on the first of April. But that’s not the April Fools’ prank! More on that in a minute!

The Resurrection of Jesus is a big deal! This is the core belief of Christianity – whether you’re Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox, or any other flavor of Christianity, we all believe in the resurrection! That’s what makes us Christians! This historical event had over 500 eye-witnesses (1 Cor 15:6), not one of whom ever recanted their testimony, even under penalty of death. And it stands at the center of our faith.

The core belief of Christianity is that God took on human flesh (John 1:14), was tempted in every way that we are (Heb 4:15) yet lived a sinless life (1 John 3:5). He then died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin (2 Cor 5:21) and His resurrection is evidence that we have been justified before God (Rom 4:25).

But in addition to those marvelous doctrinal truths, the Resurrection is one of the best April Fools’ jokes ever played, because it was played on the devil!

For quite some time Satan had been plotting to kill Jesus. He had failed to distract Jesus from His mission in his earlier temptation in the wilderness so he waited “for a more opportune time” (Luke 4:1-13). All the while he was influencing the hearts of his hypocritical children who were in positions of religious leadership and they plotted to bring an end to this young upstart Rabbi.

Then Satan played his most strategic card by entering the heart of Judas Iscariot, one of Jesus’ trusted companions. Somehow he convinced him to betray Jesus. I’m sure Satan must have chuckled with evil glee as he saw Jesus arrested, convicted, beaten, and ultimately crucified.

Satan’s plan through the ages had been to destroy the promised Seed of the woman (Gen 3:15). He tried to do it in Egypt by having Pharaoh kill the male Hebrew children. He tried again around the time of the birth of Jesus by having Herod kill all the male children under the age of 2. But now he had finally succeeded! How he must have celebrated as Jesus’ lifeless body was lowered from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb. The serpent had bruised His heel as the earthly walk of Jesus came to an end.

Or did it?

When Adam disobeyed God, Satan had been granted certain authority on the earth. And for thousands of years he had wielded the power of death over fallen mankind. But little did he realize that it was through death itself that Jesus would render him powerless! (Heb 2:14)

Early on Sunday morning, to Satan’s surprise and chagrin, a “severe earthquake” ripped through that region and “an angel of the Lord descended and rolled away the stone” (Matt 28:2 NASB). In grand fashion all of heaven witnessed the empty tomb declare that Satan had been played for a fool!

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians he declared that if the rulers of this age had understood God’s eternal wisdom “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor 2:8 NASB). It’s almost as if they were tricked into accomplishing God’s purpose!

When Jesus was raised from the dead His body still bore the marks of Satan’s bruising. But ultimately the Resurrection was the final crushing of the head of the serpent of old (Gen 3:15). And today Satan remains the April Fool!

The only question that remains is who else is the fool? In Psalm 14:1 David wrote that “the fool says in his heart ‘there is no God.’” But the Resurrection provides a remedy even for the foolish heart! The New Testament declares “that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and BELIEVE IN YOUR HEART THAT GOD RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 NASB)

To not be the April Fool it all comes down to the heart. What does yours believe?

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Keep Calm and Plod On


(Originally appeared in the Town Talk on Sunday, March 4, 2018.)

Aesop was a Greek storyteller who lived about 600 years before Christ. You’ve probably heard of “Aesop’s Fables,” stories that use animals to communicate great truths. Some of the more well-known examples include “Boy Who Cried Wolf,” “Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs,” “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” among others.

Aesop was also known for coming up with some pretty tweetable quotes, like “After all is said and done, more is usually said than done;” and “It is easy to be brave from a safe distance.” One of my favorites comes from his story of the Tortoise and the Hare: “Plodding wins the race.”

You might remember this story of the boastful hare who challenged the tortoise to a race, confident that he was the fastest animal in the jungle. But the tortoise ended up winning because although the hare started well, in his arrogance he decided to take a nap thinking he could easily win. The tortoise simply plodded towards the finish line, crossing just ahead of the desperate hare whose flashy, yet intermittent speed couldn’t overcome the slow and steady pace of the tortoise.

“Plodding wins the race” was the moral of Aesop’s fable and is a lesson to Christians today as well. Some folks may start out well on a journey of faith, but how you start is not what wins the gold medal – it’s how you finish! Jesus told His own parable of seed that was sown. Although most of it sprang up quickly, not all of it became fruitful. Persecution, or temptation, or cares of the world stunted the growth and prevented the harvest. (See Matthew 18, Mark 4 and Luke 8 for the full treatment.)

Jesus called us to be faithful to the end. I call that “plodding” – the sustained faithfulness of someone who just won’t quit! And there are some secrets that the plodder knows about walking with God.

First, the plodder knows that every step counts. Every faithfulness counts. Every obedience counts. The plodder knows that every step matters. He doesn’t quit just because he doesn’t see immediate results. He doesn’t stop just because the seed he sowed 5 minutes ago hasn’t already born fruit. He recognizes there is a cost involved and the journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step – and then has many, many more steps after that first one!!!

The plodder also knows that “this, too, shall pass!” No pain, no matter how intense, lasts forever! As David proclaimed, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning!” (Ps 30:5 KJV).

There’s a very common phrase in the Bible that appears almost 500 times: “It came to pass…” While this phrase is a narrative tool to introduce the next part of the story, there’s also a hint of encouragement hidden in those words! Joyce McCollough (of the singing group The Martins) mined that gem for us when she penned these words: “It didn't come to stay; it came to pass. The Lord will move that mountain if you'll ask. The trials that we see today won't last. It didn't come to stay; it came to pass.” Plodders know this secret!

Finally, plodders also know that the prize is worth the plod! This is the plodder’s ultimate weapon! He recognizes that the “momentary, light affliction,” no matter how heavy and seemingly long lasting, pales when viewed in the light of the “eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” (2 Cor 4:17-18 NASB) The plodder knows that what’s across the finish line is worth whatever the cost to get there!

This is why it’s so important that we keep our eyes on the prize. Or as the Bible writer said, “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2 NASB). That passage says that Jesus “endured the cross” because of the “joy set before Him.” Jesus Himself was our example in setting His eyes on the prize. And so must we!

It’s imperative to keep God’s vision for your life, God’s calling, in view. When we lose sight of God’s vision we stop plodding and start trudging. But when we hold onto God’s plan, our steps have purpose and we can “Keep calm and plod on!”

Have you learned the plodder’s secrets? There are at least three: 1)Every step counts; 2)This, too, shall pass, and; 3)The prize is worth the plod! I hope you grasp these secrets and take them to heart. Just don’t quit! Plod on! And plod well!

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Season of Love


February is known as a season of love! Because Valentines Day falls right in the middle of the month, the whole month gets wrapped up with the theme of love and relationships. Just check out the Hallmark Channel – just as the last month of the year is dedicated to every kind of Christmas movie you can image, February is dedicated to every sappy love story you could ever dream up! And some you never would have thought of!
The origins of Valentine’s Day are not completely known. The most common origin story traces its roots back to a priest named Valentine who lived in Rome in the third century AD. The Roman emperor of the day, Claudius II, had completely banned marriage for soldiers, thinking it was a distraction. Valentine violated Roman law by arranging secret marriages and when he was found out he was thrown in prison and sentenced to death. Supposedly he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and wrote her a note delivered to her on the day he was to be killed. That note was signed “From your Valentine.” And it was delivered on February 14.
Others trace the origins of Valentine’s Day to a Roman festival called Lupercalia that took place in the middle of February, which corresponded roughly to the beginning of their springtime. This festival included exchanges of gifts between those whose names were drawn from an urn, and sometimes that resulted in marriage among the young folk! It’s thought that some elements of this celebration may have been carried into the Christian celebration honoring St. Valentine.
Regardless of how it started, once the merchants got ahold of the idea it took off like wildfire! With the invention of the printing press it became easier to purchase read-made cards for people to express their emotions. And of course the postal service loved promoting anything that caused people to buy stamps!
But maybe, just maybe, the idea of celebrating love actually originated in the heart of God! The most famous verse in the Bible proclaims God’s love as the motivation for the greatest gift of eternity. ”For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”(John 3:16 NASB) God’s love motivated Him to do something for those who couldn’t do for themselves.
Love is a powerful motivator and it quickens amazing expressions. One of those expressions of love was demonstrated on the streets of Central Louisiana yesterday as thousands of people from hundreds of churches gathered together to declare their love for unborn babies and their mothers. But they don’t just march!
Over the past couple of years those same people have also put their money where their mouth is and privately funded the Cenla Pregnancy Center, which offers real help to mothers facing a crisis pregnancy. It’s love that motivates them to provide free pregnancy tests, free limited ultrasounds, free consultation by a pro-life nurse or doctor, free counseling by a trained pro-life advocate, and free resources to help moms and dads from the moment of their child’s conception until his or her second birthday.
Ask anyone involved in yesterday’s march or anyone involved with the Cenla Pregnancy Center and they’ll tell you it’s love for God and love for God’s creation, the unborn child, and that child’s mother, that motivates them to stand up and speak out. 
Love is indeed a strong motivator! God loved the world enough to sacrifice something precious in order to save us from ourselves. He demonstrated love by not waiting until we were good enough or until we deserved to be saved. The great apostle Paul said it this way, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”(Rom 5:8 NASB)
We didn’t deserve His love but He still freely gave it. And because He loved us we are able to love others. I pray that every reader of these words will come to know how truly loved they are in Christ. And that we will also learn to share that love with others. 

This article was written for the February 4, 2018 edition of the Alexandria Town Talk newspaper, and originally appeared online at http://www.thetowntalk.com/story/life/2018/02/04/season-love/302739002/

Sunday, January 07, 2018

New Year, Fresh Start



I love the New Year!!! There’s just something about a fresh start, a new beginning, a clean slate, that fills me with hope for the endless possibilities that lie before me.

God is all about fresh starts! That’s one of the running themes throughout the Scriptures, that He gives new beginnings to what we thought were tired, worn-out endings! Let me give you an example.

Towards the middle of the Bible we find a book of sadness. It’s filled with so much sorrow that its actual name is “Lamentations,” written by a man who weeps over the condition of the nation of Israel.

Jeremiah knew that the fall of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile of its people were consequences of sinful behavior. The people had no one to blame but themselves for having turned their backs on God and having gone after false idols. And now they were reaping the whirlwind. So Jeremiah wept.

And yet, in the midst of this book of sorrow and tears Jeremiah remembers something! And as he reflects on a memory of the character and nature of God, his heart is overjoyed and sustained with hope. Listen to his own words:

“This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is Thy faithfulness.” (Lam 3:21-23 KJV)

Did you see it? God’s mercies and compassions are new every morning! Every morning! That means that no matter how much we’ve messed up the day, tomorrow morning He gives us another chance, a fresh start, a new beginning!

Unfortunately, we don’t always see it that way. We often go to bed so tired and bogged down, and when we wake up we just pick up yesterday’s burdens, struggles, guilt and sorrow. The morning feels like just another day.

That’s why the New Year seems like such a big deal! January 1 is not just the first day of a new month, it’s the first day of a new year! We have to learn to write the date differently, laughing at ourselves the first few times we forget and put 17 at the end. Everything about 1/1 reminds us of newness and freshness!

The New Year also brings up a fresh sense of resolution as we pledge to lose weight, get in shape, stop unhealthy habits and start new healthy ones in their place. We feel empowered to start again, even if we really blew it in the weeks of holiday parties, rich food and overindulgence leading up to the first day of January! The New Year means a fresh start!

So how do we apply that to our lives spiritually? How do we live in that fresh start every day? Thankfully the Scriptures give us that step as well.

In Acts 3 Peter speaks to a group of people who only a few weeks earlier were shouting “Crucify Him” concerning Jesus. As he shares the story of the resurrection of Jesus, and the miracles being done in His name, the crowd is grief-stricken. They are hearing how they had participated in the death of this innocent man, the Lamb of God. And like Jeremiah, there may have been some weeping among them as their eyes were opened to their spiritual lostness.

But rather than blame them for what they had done, Peter declares that a fresh start, a new beginning, is available to them! He declares, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19 NASB)

“Times of refreshing.” Does that sound like a new start to you? Does it sound like something you need today?

As we enter 2018, don’t bring with you the brokenness, failures and heartaches from last year. Do what Peter said, “Repent and return” and allow the Lord to wipe your sins away! Then you can experience the fresh start God promises!

I hope you have a very happy new year! And I pray you will encounter the God of compassion who gives new mercies and fresh starts every day! Here’s to your Fresh Start in 2018!



This article was written for the Alexandria Town Talk newspaper, and originally appeared at http://www.thetowntalk.com/story/life/2018/01/07/new-year-fresh-start/1007409001/

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Kindness, the Overlooked Spiritual Fruit


(Each month I write a column for the Town Talk's "Guest Pastor" column. Here is my November, 2017 contribution. I pray it blesses and encourages you to intentional acts of kindness!)

I'm a huge fan of kindness! I think it's the overlooked fruit of the Spirit, maybe because it gets lost in the middle of the list that Paul gives us in his letter to the Galatian believers:

"But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, KINDNESS, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! " (Gal 5:22-23 NLT emphasis mine)

Paul lists nine different evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work in our life, and right in the middle of the list, with four before and four after, appears the word “kindness.” Unfortunately, it sometimes seems to get lost in the crowd!

Maybe kindness is overlooked because people view it as a sign of weakness. Or perhaps people think that if you're kind then you're a pushover, or a doormat. For some reason kindness is seen as being soft. But the reality is that God is kind! He's so kind that the Bible speaks of His kindness as lovingkindness! And while God is kind He's certainly nobody's doormat!

It was God’s kindness that motivated Him to rescue Israel from Egypt, according to Ex 15:13. That same teaching is carried forward into the New Testament. In Tit 3:4-5 Paul explains that God’s kindness and love were the reasons He did not turn His back on fallen man, but instead acted to save him by sending a Redeemer, namely Jesus.

In his letter to the Roman Christians Paul shared that it is actually God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom 2:4). We should never mistake God’s patient kindness as a sign of weakness because we must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10). There is a judgment coming. But God’s kindness calls us to repentance, that we might be rescued from the judgment to come!

God is kind, but He is not soft! He’s not a doormat or a pushover. He knows that the result of our ongoing rebellion against Him, and our selfish choices to sin, will result in our own suffering. So in His kindness He acts to save us from ourselves.

Kindness in action goes by another name – it’s called “compassion.” Often in Scripture we see that Jesus was moved with compassion and acted with kindness to heal and deliver people who were oppressed like sheep without a shepherd. Kindness is not an empty feeling, it is an expression of love.

Perhaps that’s why Paul described love as both patient and kind in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians (also known as the “love chapter”). Love that is unkind is no love at all!

But kindness is also a choice! In Paul’s letter to the Colossians he said that kindness is something we “put on,” not unlike our morning routine when we go through our closet trying to decide what to wear (Col 3:12). Just as you chose the shirt you’re wearing today, reacting with or without kindness is a choice we make in every situation. 

After Kind David was established in his kingdom he reflected back on his earlier friendship with his wonderful friend Jonathan and asked if there was anyone left from his family that he could show kindness to, in honor of that friendship. When told of Jonathan’s son who had been crippled in both feet during an accident, David reached out to Mephibosheth and brought him into his family, fed him at his table, and provided for him for the rest of his life. That was a choice David made, a choice to be kind, to show compassion and to put love in action.

Perhaps that’s a question we need to ask ourselves today. Is there anyone in my life that I can show kindness to today? What a wonderful way to start our day, asking God, “Who can I be kind to today?” 

If we want the fruit of the Holy Spirit to be abundant in our lives, perhaps we shouldn’t overlook the opportunities to demonstrate simple acts of kindness each day.

(This article appeared in the November 5, 2017 edition of the Alexandria Town Talk.)

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Being Offended is a Choice

For over a year now I've been writing a monthly article for the Town Talk's Guest Pastor column. Typically it runs on the first Sunday of the month, but this month the first Sunday was also the first day of the month and I didn't get it to them in time to run so it ran on the 2nd Sunday, today, October 8. Also, typically I share the article on Facebook, but a friend told me since he's not a subscriber, he can't read the article. So, in the interest of sharing with everyone, below is my October edition of the Guest Pastor column. Enjoy!




The longest chapter of the longest book of the Bible contains a gold mine of truth. And nestled among the wonders of God’s Law is this little gem: “Great peace have they which love Thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” (Psalm 119:165 KJV)

Modern translations more accurately translate the last part of that verse as “nothing can make them stumble.” That’s a great promise to those who love God’s Word, that by loving it they will be kept from stumbling into sin, error, heresy or damnation.

However, there’s something quaint about the old King James Version translation when it says that “nothing shall offend them.” And it seems like it’s a message that is sorely needed in this 21st century!

We live in a time when it seems it is almost a hobby to be offended! Every news commentary show seems to have blowhards on opposite sides of the issue just waiting to be “personally offended” at what the other person says! Our politicians are at loggerheads because everyone on one side of the aisle has either offended or been offended by someone on the other side of the aisle.

Even our churches are not immune the disease of “easily offenditis.” Someone sits in our pew, nobody called us when we missed a Sunday, the church talks about money too much, the pastor’s wife won’t help in the nursery, the sermons are too long, too boring, too convicting, too personal, too irreverent, too “fill in the blank.” You name it, someone’s gotten offended by it – and probably started another church down the street because of it!

While Psalm 119:165 may not exactly be talking about these kinds of offenses, the Bible does have a lot to say about the subject. Solomon wrote that “it is to one's glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11b ESV) He also said, “The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult.” (Proverbs 12:16 ESV) Jesus Himself said, “And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Luke 7:23 ESV)

Opportunities to be offended abound, especially in our hyper-connected culture. Arguments break out online faster than the speed of light, it seems! But what if we, as Christians, were to slow down and actually listen to each other? What if rather than only listening so we can make a rebuttal we listen so we can hear the hurt, the anguish, the lament bound up in the heart of the other? What if rather than being offended, we actually heard what was in their heart?

I’m convinced that people are longing to be heard. Many marriage conflicts could be avoided if just one of the partners would stop trying to be right and listen to their spouse! But no, because we want to be heard, we charge ahead like a bull in a china shop, making our point, getting the last word, winning the argument … and losing respect, love, affection, intimacy, and maybe even our marriage. It is possible to win the battle and still lose the war.

Truthfully, being offended is a choice we make. We can’t stop the inconsiderate, rude, offensive acts of others. But we don’t have to hang them on our refrigerators either and rehearse them every day! If we are offended by something, we’ve chosen to build a monument to it and we tie ourselves to that moment in time. And we are stuck!

I believe we can choose to not be offended. I believe we can choose to overlook an offense. I believe we can choose to ignore an insult. Otherwise the Scriptures wouldn’t have told us to do those things!
Being offended takes two – one to cause the offense and one to be offended. But what if we choose to not be offended? What if we choose to follow the words of Paul when he said, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” (Romans 12:18 NASB) I choose peace over being offended. How about you?

Nathan Martin is the Lead Pastor at Christian Challenge Worship Center in Pineville and blogs at www.OverSquozen.com