Christmas Is on a Sunday--Be at Church
Guess what? Christmas is on a Sunday this year. I learned something is a thing that I was surprised was a thing. Here’s the thing I learned-—some churches are cancelling church on Christmas Sunday. I don’t mean canceling some services; I mean cancelling all services. They’re not meeting at all. And I’m not talking about churches that don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word or don’t believe Jesus is God. I’m talking about conservative evangelical churches. I’m not speechless because I’m almost never speechless, but I am very surprised. I don’t get it. Don’t decry the secularization of Christmas and then admit that opening presents is what Christmas is all about, not celebrating the birth of the Messiah. I mean, we’re talking the day we supposedly celebrate the birth of our Savior intersecting with the day that we worship Jesus together in church. And you’re cancelling church? I don’t get it. As one Christian said, “If we desire for the world to stop taking Christ out of Christmas, then we need not do the same through our actions on Christmas Day.” (Kaylee Freeman)
But I also learned another thing was a thing. That thing is some Christian families are planning to skip church on Christmas day. What? I get that you might not be able to get your present opening in before the service. So what? If your kids have to wait a little longer, they can. Yes, they really can. If you have to do them after church that morning, won’t you be teaching your kids vividly that Christmas is about Jesus, not them?
Even considering not being at church on Christmas Day shows that we have our priorities messed up. As one pastor said "Family is a gift, not a god. We rearrange our schedule for corporate worship; we don’t expect corporate worship to be rearranged for us." (Kevin DeYoung) Did you hear that? That deserves to be said again. "We rearrange our schedule for corporate worship; we don’t expect corporate worship to be rearranged for us."
It’s Christmas, it’s a celebration of the incarnation-—the Messiah became our Savior. Where else would you celebrate that on a Sunday but church? It’s also Sunday before it’s Christmas. Resurrection Day. The one day the church must gather together.
I’m excited about having our AM service on Christmas morning, What a great way to help ourselves and our kids have a God-honoring perspective about Christmas. We are commanded to meet as a church. That meeting happens on Sunday. We have made some accommodations. We won’t have our ABF hour nor our PM service. But we will have our main worship service that morning. Even if you’re out of town visiting family on Christmas Day, let me exhort you to be in church that morning unless Providence prevents you.
Two Questions about Our Bodies After Death
This past month a church member asked me a question about whether believers have physical bodies between death and the Rapture. Since this topic came up in our sanctuary ABF, I thought I would put it here. I've also included some thoughts from a sermon I preached in 1 Corinthians 15 about what kind of bodies we will have in the future resurrection.
Will Believers Have Physical Bodies Between Death and the Rapture?
This is not as clear in Scripture as other doctrines. We’re talking about the intermediate state of believers. It’s the state between death and the rapture. Where are we? Well we are “absent from the body and present with the Lord” (Phil 1:23; 2 Cor 5:8), so we are in heaven. However, do we have bodies or not at that point? that’s the controversy. When I was in college I wrote a paper explaining in part why I believed we had an intermediate body until we were united with our own bodies. However, now I don’t believe that. Here’s what my doctrinal statement from my ordination says.
I believe the next prophetic event to be fulfilled will be the coming of the Lord in the air to rapture all believers of this age. It is an imminent (Jn. 14:3; Phil 3:20; Titus 2:13), pre-tribulational and premillennial (1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 2:3-8), and personal return (1 Thess. 4:13-18) of Christ at which time the body of each dead Christian will be united with his spirit and living saints will be taken from the earth to meet the Lord in the air.
Notice it doesn’t talk about the intermediate state. That was probably purposeful. The less you say at an ordination, the less you can get quizzed on. ;)
So it’s not clear in Scripture, but there is no inherent problem with a disembodied existence for the believer. The soul/spirit can survive without a body (Mt 10:28). Several passages talk about death for a Christian as the death of the body, but not the soul/spirit (Acts 7:59; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Cor 5:8; Rev 6:9-10). Since Scripture never talks about Christians having bodies in the intermediate state, to believe so is based on speculation. Sometimes we guess because Scripture doesn’t say. However, here I think it’s safer to assume that our souls will exist apart from our bodies with Christ in heaven between death and the rapture. We will have a conscious existence; it just won’t be with a body. At the Rapture our souls will be reunited with our bodies which will also be glorified. From then on we will have a body for all eternity.
Will We Have the Same Body when We Are Resurrected?
Now as to whether we will have the exact same body we had when we died I believe there will be some differences.
• 1 Corinthians 15:35-38 (NKJV), But someone will say, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” 36 Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies. 37 And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain—perhaps wheat or some other grain. 38 But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.
In verse 35 Paul is answering the question, “What kind of a body does a resurrected saint have?”
First century culture looked at the human body in some unique ways. Greek Gnostics believed that the body was evil; therefore, a bodily resurrection seemed like a bad idea to them. Why would you want to resurrect the source of evil—the human body? We don’t believe that your actual body is the source of your sin. If you could live without a body in this life, you would still be a sinner. Sin is in you—the real you, not your outward, bodily shell.
If you look at 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul gives us a theology of the body in that paragraph. What you do with your body matters to God. Your body is the vehicle used to either glorify God or please yourself. But it is not the cause of your sin like the Greek Gnostics believed.
Supposedly Jewish rabbis believed that the resurrection body was identical in every way to the earthly body. It was the same exact body. They believed in a general resurrection, but they expected it to be the same body that went into the grave. Well, Paul is going to teach us that it’s not the identical body that went into the grave.
There is connection between physical bodies and resurrection bodies—there is continuity. In other words, they are not completely different. That’s what the analogy of the seed communicates.
The passage uses a simple illustration. Everyone knows that the plant doesn’t look at all like the seed that sprung it. The seed actually must die for the plant to come forth. Germination causes the seed to disappear—to die. Generally, the seed is gone, but the plant comes from the seed. Farmers don’t harvest seeds; they harvest plants. If all you wanted was seeds, then buy more packets of seeds. Don’t even plant them. But that’s not what any farmer wants.
It dies as a seed to spring forth as a plant. Even though the seed is dead; it is “resurrected” or brought to life in the plant.
The plant is something completely different from the seed, yet it’s not. There is continuity between the seed and the plant.
So what do we learn from this illustration? You don’t get a new body until the old one dies. You will have a better body someday. Your physical body is the bare seed of what will be when you are raised. Why do we need a better body? Since this entire world is under the curse of sin, even our bodies must be redeemed.
Christ’s resurrected body is the pattern for ours. It was the same, but different. Christ’s resurrection body was His body, but it was also different. His Resurrection body went through walls; it appeared out of nowhere. • Luke 24:15 (NKJV), So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. • Luke 24:36 (NKJV), Now as they said these things, Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” • John 20:19 (NKJV), Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
So it was different. However, His followers could recognize Him. • Luke 24:31 (NKJV), Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.
So there was continuity between Christ’s physical body and His resurrection body.
Verses 35-38 indicate that your resurrection body will be different, but still recognizable as you. It will change, but still be you. You will still be you, but with a much better body. Paul didn’t believe that the same body you had at death is what is raised. It has continuity with your original body, but it is different. It’s the same body only…different.
Your loved ones that have died in Christ will still be your loved ones, but with much better bodies. And they’ll be recognizable. If you knew them in this life, you will know them in the next life.
Thank God your Child is a Mediocre Athlete
I came across this online article, and it points out our tendency to idolize our kids' athletic abilities to the detriment of their and our spiritual lives. The author has a sense of humor in communicating his message. Read and enjoy.
When Should Your Child Date?
I came across a blog from Desiring God ministries that I’ve linked to below on this topic, and it prompted me to let you know how my wife and I have tried to think through this issue. BTW, I’m going to switch between past and present tense somewhat incomprehensibly since two of our children are in college and the other two are in high school.
Our goal was for our kids to please God in how they related to the opposite sex. One of the best outcomes in our opinion was if our children developed friendships that were pure and holy. We didn’t want them to have regrets. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if your child could bring their spouse to meet an old high school romance and it wasn’t awkward—they didn’t have memories of sinning together? That was a scenario that we painted for our kids.
So I’m describing an ideal, and I am not embarrassed about holding out that ideal to my children. But the gospel teaches us that God takes messed up people, forgives their sins, and clothes them with Christ’s righteousness. Sinful failures in our relationships to the opposite sex don’t have to define us. Our identity in Christ is what defines us. God grants forgiveness to repentant sexual sinners. Praise God for that!
So what was our rule? Our kids weren’t allowed to have a dating relationship until they were able to get married. Our thought was that dating is for marriage. I’ve said that dozens of times to my children. So if you aren’t old enough to get married, then you aren’t old enough to date. Practically what that meant was they couldn’t have a dating relationship until they graduated from high school.
However, I’m not saying that the first person they date after high school should be whom they marry. No. Dating is for marriage, but that doesn’t mean that each dating experience should lead inevitably to marriage with that person. An adult might date several people less seriously and maybe a few more seriously before moving toward marriage with one particular person. Dating should be leading somewhere though. Even a bad date can help them on the road to marriage because they probably just learned some things that they don’t want in a future spouse. ;)
This is not the gospel. This is not biblically mandated. It’s an area of Christian liberty where we tried to help our kids make wise decisions. Of course we can’t prevent them from liking a particular person of the opposite sex nor would we even try to. But they couldn’t go on dates with that person. The only exceptions were a formal date like our school’s Junior-Senior Banquet because that is chaperoned and because it helps them learn how to properly relate to the opposite sex in a formal situation.
And even if our son/daughter had a girl/guy that they were really good friends with, we regularly ask them if they are looking at them as a good friend, which is okay, or a dating relationship, which isn’t. How would they know? Are they relating to the person in ways that they wouldn’t relate to a good friend of the opposite sex?
This doesn’t have to be everyone’s family rule. However, I do wonder why Christian parents are sometimes in such a rush to have their kids date. What’s the hurry?
Frankly I’ve seen enough Facebook posts to doubt that Christian teens are handling their dating relationships wisely while they’re in them, and the aftermath when they break up sometimes shows their misplaced values and immature search for identity. And you’re never going to convince me that a history of dating early and intensely and then breaking up has prepared a teen better for eventual Christian marriage than not dating would have. Seriously, can you name one spiritual benefit from dating in high school? Maybe you can. I’ve not thought of one. And I can think of several temptations dating could bring.
Our children are encouraged to have wholesome relationships with the opposite sex through school and church events or other group activities. They don’t need the pressure of finding a girlfriend or boyfriend in junior high or high school.
You are not helping your child find satisfaction in Jesus if even unintentionally you encourage them to find their identity in a boyfriend or girlfriend. Like I said, it’s not the gospel. It’s just something to think about.
Here’s the link to a well-written article on this topic from Desiring God Ministries.
I’ve been thinking about our annual theme this year from Hebrews 12:1-2—Run Light, Run Long, and Follow Christ. Specifically I’ve been thinking about running light. That’s a summary of part of Hebrews 12:1, “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (ESV).
It’s not surprising to most of us that running light means laying aside sin. Some Christians’ spiritual life is on life support because they have indulged the flesh. There is little difference between them and their atheist neighbors. They have been sidelined by pornography, materialism, envy, bitterness, or idolatries of many different types. Running light means repenting of sin. But you expected that.
But running light also means laying aside every weight. These can be activities and interests that aren’t necessarily wrong, but weigh us down. We are so busy; we have so many things to do and most of them are obligations that were voluntary. Let me be clear. If you are too busy to attend church, then you are too busy. If you are too busy to serve in church, then you are too busy. Things have weighed you down, maybe even good things, but you are not running the Christian race like God wants.
So look at your life. What distracts you? What slows you down? What keeps you from church? What keeps you from service? Following Jesus means saying no to some good things so you can say yes to Jesus. God doesn’t want the hours you have left over after you’ve done what you want to do. He wants your whole life. Are you running light?
The Book of Jonah: An Introduction
This Sunday (July 17, 2016) we are starting a new Sunday morning series in the Book of Jonah. Like all series that I preach, I'm excited about this one. I've been studying for our first sermon this Sunday, and I came across a youtube video that I think will help you understand Jonah. The Bible Project is a group that creates animated videos (think whiteboard, not cartoons) about each book of the Bible. The one on Jonah is about 10 minutes, but I think you'll find it helps you understand this minor prophet. So click Jonah and enjoy!
In Honor of Our Country
I gave this eulogy at three local cemeteries on Memorial Day, 2016.
I always feel a bit inadequate providing the eulogy for our local Memorial Day celebrations because I realize my debt to those that have served. I think if you’ve served our country in the military, you can understand the sacrifice of those that gave all, and you’ve done your part to pay for our liberty. With an all-volunteer army many of us have never served. Those of us that haven’t served should feel a little inadequate… like we are in the midst of giants because we are. We are recipients of great liberty that we haven’t paid for.
We do this in cemeteries around our community because we think of those that died. Let me tell you a story of one American that gave his all.
Death was not uncommon among aircrews during World War II. Over 6500 B-17s and B-24s were lost during the war in Europe. That’s a staggering number. Many of them with loss of life. So the true story I’m about to tell to you is not unique because an airman died, but because of the way he died.
[Reporter] “Andy Rooney witnessed a particularly awful death. He was on an air base in England as a flight returned. The radio was crackling as there were half a dozen bombers with dead and dying men aboard. Then there was a frantic call: the ball turret gunner in one B-17 was trapped. [the ball turret gunner was in that plastic bubble below the airplane.] The gears that rotated the ball to put the gunner in position to shoot and then returned him to the position that let him climb out and back up into the airplane had been hit and were jammed. He was caught in his plastic cage. “Two engines were out and the plane was losing altitude fast and barely making 135 miles per hour, close to stall-out speed. The pilot ordered the crew to throw out everything. The men started pitching out machine guns, ammunition, oxygen tanks, and every instrument they could tear loose. The pilot opened the [valves] on the fuel tanks to drain them down to the last few gallons. The hydraulic system was spewing fluid. The wheels could not be brought down. A belly landing was inevitable. For eight minutes, the pilot, the tower, and the ball turret gunner talked on the radio. The gunner knew what was coming. Rooney wrote, ‘We all watched in horror as it happened. We watched as this man’s life ended, mashed between the concrete pavement of the runway and the belly of the bomber.’”[Stephen E. Ambrose, Citizen Soldiers (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1997), 300-01]
It doesn’t sound like a noble death for an airman. No one goes to war thinking that’s how he is going to die. We all imagine ourselves—if we have to die—dying an admirable death. But no soldier imagines himself or herself dying in a tragic way. We wish that all that gave their lives died in dignified ways, but war is not dignified. It’s messy and ugly and lives are sometimes so cheap.
But all military deaths are worth appreciating on Memorial Day. Maybe the tragic even more than the noble because a war cannot be won without many many tragic deaths.
One of my favorite presidential speeches is one that President Ronald Reagan gave in Normandy, France on the fortieth anniversary of D-Day. It was June 6, 1984, and it’s called “The Boys of Pointe du Hoc.”, and he gave it in the presence of some of the very Army Rangers he was talking about.
Of course D-Day was the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. While the Allies had some successes to that point, most of Europe was still under Nazi oppression. D-Day was successful because of the thousands of sacrifices big and small that soldiers made for freedom.
Let me read you some of President Reagan’s speech.
… We stand on a lonely, windswept point on the northern shore of France. The air is soft, but 40 years ago at this moment, the air was dense with smoke and the cries of men, and the air was filled with the crack of rifle fire and the roar of cannon. At dawn, on the morning of the 6th of June, 1944, 225 Rangers jumped off the British landing craft and ran to the bottom of these cliffs. Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb these sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns. The Allies had been told that some of the mightiest of these guns were here and they would be trained on the beaches to stop the Allied advance. The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers -- the edge of the cliffs shooting down at them with machineguns and throwing grenades. And the American Rangers began to climb. They shot rope ladders over the face of these cliffs and began to pull themselves up. When one Ranger fell, another would take his place. When one rope was cut, a Ranger would grab another and begin his climb again. They climbed, shot back, and held their footing. Soon, one by one, the Rangers pulled themselves over the top, and in seizing the firm land at the top of these cliffs, they began to seize back the continent of Europe. Two hundred and twenty-five came here. After 2 days of fighting, only 90 could still bear arms. … These are the boys of [Pwent du hoe] Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war. … Forty summers have passed since the battle that you fought here. You were young the day you took these cliffs; some of you were hardly more than boys, with the deepest joys of life before you. Yet, you risked everything here. Why? Why did you do it? What impelled you to put aside the instinct for self-preservation and risk your lives to take these cliffs? What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? We look at you, and somehow we know the answer. It was faith and belief; it was loyalty and love. The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next. It was the deep knowledge -- and pray God we have not lost it -- that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause. And you were right not to doubt.
Can you picture the impossibility of their task? It was terrifically unlikely that they would succeed in climbing the cliffs and silencing the enemy’s guns. But faced with impossible tasks, American soldiers just press forward and accomplish them. It’s been a defining characteristic of the American military for over 200 years.
I’m glad you are here today. Memorial Day is not primarily about BBQ or camping or picnics. It’s about taking some time and appreciating those that served our country and in some cases, gave their lives. Thanks for doing that today.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the sacrifices of the men and women in this cemetery that served in the military. Most of them didn’t die in battle, but all of them were willing to. It’s really impossible to thank them appropriately. We enjoy amazing freedom because of their service. Saying a simple thank you seems so inadequate. But that’s all we can do. So we thank them, and we thank You for providing our country with such men and women. People for whom no task was too hard and no sacrifice was too much.
Father, I also thank you for the greatest example of sacrifice that we find in your Son, Jesus Christ. I’m grateful that because of His death, every person that repents and believes can have You as a friend, not an enemy. We don’t have to be at war with you.
It’s your grace that has given us the freedom we have. Thanks for providing that freedom through the men and women in this cemetery. We commit them to You, the God of all the earth that always does right.
Prophecy in Isaiah 24-27
This week in our Summer Home Bible Study we are looking at Isaiah 24-27. We knew when we decided on this study that some of the prophetic sections might be interpreted differently than our church would do so. For example, we understand the Rapture to be the next event on God’s prophetic calendar. It could happen at any time, and it is followed by the seven-year Tribulation. At the end of the Tribulation Christ returns (His Second Coming) and inaugurates the Millennium when Jesus will rule from David’s throne in Jerusalem.
So we see Isaiah 24-27 as describing the awful devastation of the Tribulation followed by the wonderful blessings of Jesus’ millennial rule. Isaiah 24 talks about the Tribulation (vv. 1-20), the punishment of world leaders (or wicked angels) at the end of the Millennium during the Great White Throne Judgment (vv. 21-22), and God’s eternal reign from the New Jerusalem after this judgment (v. 23). Isaiah 25-27 take us back to the Millennial (1000 year) Kingdom rule of Christ and the blessings which will characterize it with a few references to the judgment at the end of the Tribulation. Since these chapters are poetry, it can get confusing as the author refers to different prophetic events. Our study doesn’t reflect this prophetic timetable. One place it’s most apparent is when it confuses the trumpet blast of Isaiah 27:13 (heralding the future regathering of Jews to worship the Lord in Jerusalem in the Millennium) with the trumpet blast of 1 Thess 4:16 (referring to the Rapture).
Maybe that was more than you wanted to know, but since our study doesn’t always exactly fit how our church views prophecy (dispensational and premillennial are two important theological terms for us), I wanted to help clarify these chapters. Let's meet on Wednesday night and enjoy Isaiah.
Raising Christian Kids in a Public School
This morning I read a wonderful post by a pastor's wife encouraging parents that were putting their oldest child in kindergarten. They had chosen a public school and since her own children were in public schools, she had biblical wisdom and practical experience. Her first lesson on centering your life on the church is worth the entire read. I hope it helps and encourages parents in our church that have chosen public education.