Monday, February 29, 2016

A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.  – Mark 15:21

Who was Simon of Cyrene?  We do not know too much about him, but we can make some pretty good guesses. Cyrene was the capital city of the province of Cyrenaica, which was in the eastern part of present day Libya in North Africa.  Mark tells us that he was the father of Alexander and Rufus. (Mark 15:21, Acts 13:1.)  And since the gospel of Mark was directed to the Romans, it is seems likely that the sons were well known in the church at Rome.

The greatest honor ever given to a human being was when Mary conceived and gave birth to Jesus Christ.  The next greatest honor given to a human being may have been the honor of carrying Jesus' cross.

But how unexpected the honor was!  When Simon left home he had no idea that he was going to play such an important part in history!

We often hear that a cross is something that we voluntarily pick up; but this is not always so. The text tells us that Simon was compelled, at the point of a roman sword, to carry the cross.  What is it that compels us to carry burdens for the sake of Christ?  It is the power of His love. The love of Christ in our hearts is what compels us to follow wherever He leads and to carry whatever cross He lays before us.  His love compels us, and we would not have the courage to obey, if we did not have His love in our hearts.  Hatred, fear, duty, ambition, pride, these are all things that can motivate people, but nothing compares to love!  Love is the most powerful force in the word!

The task Simon was asked to complete was not a very spectacular one. His job was simply to carry a cross several hundred yards; tradition tells us that Jesus Himself had already carried the cross most of the distance.  Although the job looked insignificant at the moment, it turned out to be extremely important!

It is often easier to get people to assume big crosses with a lot of publicity attached to them, crosses that the multitude can see.  But it is very difficult to get them to assume the little crosses that are unnoticed by the crowd. Yet, frequently it is the little cross that does the most good!

I do not know what kind of cross the Lord may present to you, but whatever it is, carry it!  Perhaps even as you read this, the Lord will honor you and ask you to shoulder a burden.  Maybe right now He's saying, "I want you to reach out to your next door neighbor.”  Or, “I need you to take a meal to a hurting family.”  He may be calling you to sponsor a child, or volunteer in a particular ministry, or make a generous donation.   Whatever cross He may have presented to you, carry it for the sake of His love!  

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Friday, February 26, 2016

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life,and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  - John 1:1-5

The Gospel of John was penned by the aged Apostle in about 85 AD. It was the last of the four Gospels to be written. At the time John wrote his gospel, 50 years had passed since Christ has been on the earth. John sits with pen in hand and the Holy Spirit brings back memories. Through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John didn’t make a single mistake and he didn’t forget a thing! By the time this book was circulated among the Christian community, the other Gospels were household words. People the world over had already the accounts of the life of Christ as recorded by Matthew, Mark and Luke. These first three Gospels are called the Synoptic Gospels. The word "synoptic" means "to see together." This means that the first three Gospels contain many of the same stories and teachings, but told from a different angle. Yet, each fully inspired by the Lord.

John's Gospel is different! In the pages of this wonderful book, we see a side of Christ that the other Gospel writers do not touch on in quite the same way.

When Jesus came preaching repentance (Mark 1:15) people thought He was strange. When He began to heal and perform miracles, they thought He was a prophet sent by God, (John 3:2). When He spoke the Word of God with power, men thought He was amazing (Luke 4:36). However, when Jesus claimed equality with God, men thought He was crazy.

The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.”  - John 19:7

He stopped being a blessing or a curiosity and became a controversy when He claimed to be God, John 14:9!

People still grapple with these truths!  They are willing to accept the humble Christ, the teaching Christ, the meek Christ, the dead Christ, the serving Christ. However, they will not give acknowledgment to the God/Man Jesus Christ. He is still 100 % God and 100% man all wrapped up in one. It is best summed up by Paul in Phil. 2:5-8. In these amazing verses, the Apostle sets forth in clear, concise language, the fact that Jesus existed before Bethlehem. That He willing humbled Himself and came to this world in the condition of a servant. Jesus is God in human flesh!

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  - Philippians 2:5-8

Jeff Frazier

Thursday, February 25, 2016

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him. Then the word of the LORD came to me:  “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD.  “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.
-   Jeremiah 18:1-6

According to verse 6 in this passage, the Potter has absolute control over what becomes of the clay. It is in His hand and He makes of it what He desires. For some people, this is not a very comforting thought. The idea that I have no rights or no control over my own life seems wrong in a society like ours that places such a high value on individual freedom. But the Bible is not saying that when we come to Christ we are forced into some kind of religious obligation. The message of the Gospel is that the only way that we can truly be free is to yield our will to the will of the one who made us and who knows who are meant to be! It is the mind of the Potter that shapes the clay, NOT the other way around! What possible hope does the clay have of ever becoming anything at all without the hand of the Potter – none! Take few moments to read and reflect on the following passages of Scripture…

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 - Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Romans 12:1-2 - Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Isaiah 45:9 - Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’ Does your work say, ‘He has no hands’?

Romans 9:20-21 - But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

What a message for those who know and trust in Jesus! He is in control of our lives and He can make of us what He wishes. Some are sturdy vessels that are used over and over again. Others are very fine and delicate like expensive china. Whatever the usage, it is according to the will of the Potter and those types of choices are totally up to Him. The clay has no right to question the Potter’s judgment in the matter of what kind of vessel He makes of it

The whole point here is that God decides what He wants you to do and to be. Your duty is to submit to His will and His authority over your life. The only duty that the clay has is to yield to the will of the Potter. If we want the blessings of the Lord and if we want to be vessels of honor for Him, then we must surrender our will to His. If we will place ourselves in His hands and genuinely allow the Lord to work His will in us, then we will be blessed and will become vessels of His purpose and His glory.

Can you honestly say today; “I am totally yielded to the will of God for my life?” Or, would you have to say, “There are areas where I am still in control. There are parts of me that I haven’t given to the Potter. There are circumstances that I face that I still try to control and work out on my own?”

Jeff Frazier 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God
something to be grasped, but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross! 
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
   Philippians 2:3-11

Aren't these verses beautiful? The fact that although Jesus had all authority as the Son of God, He was willing to humble Himself - even unto death. Time and time again we see in both the example and in the teaching of Jesus, that it is humility and service that are the mark of “Kingdom Greatness”. This amazing passage from the Apostle Paul in Philippians is, in a sense, his own reflection on the beauty of the humility of Christ. In the history of the world, many billions of people have lived and died. Many have left their mark on the tapestry of time, but no one has made as indelible an impression as a humble Jewish man named Jesus. Had He been an ordinary man, the world would have forgotten Him as soon as He had died. But, He was no ordinary man!

Perhaps the most significant line in this passage is the phrase “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.” This is really an astounding statement. Can you and I really be like Jesus? Notice that the text does not say we will become Jesus, but that we can and should have His attitude of humility. 

Friends, you and I will never become Jesus, but we can become like Him. Ephesians tells us that we have been created to become like Christ. Listen to Romans 8:29 in the Living Bible: “For from the very beginning God decided that those who came to Him – and He knew who would – should become like His Son.” Let me be clear, He’s not saying we’re going to be a god, but He does desire for us to become godly as he develops His character in our lives. God wants to make us like His son Jesus. Ephesians 4:15 puts it this way: “…We will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

Pastor, author and practical theologian Andrew Murray has written a great deal on the subject of humility. More importantly, he lived what he taught as humble minister of the Gospel in South Africa for more than twenty-five years. The following is an excerpt from his own reflections on this same passage.

“In this view it is of inconceivable importance that we should have right thoughts of who and what Christ is, of what really constitutes Him the Christ, and specialty of what may be counted His chief characteristic, the root and essence of all His character as our Redeemer. There can be but one answer: it is His humility. What is the incarnation but His heavenly humility, His emptying Himself and becoming man? What is His life on earth but humility; His taking the form of a servant? And what is His atonement but humility!  And what is His ascension and His glory, but humility exalted to the throne and crowned with glory?  In heaven, where He was with the Father, in His birth, in His life, in His death, in His sitting on the throne, it is all, it is nothing but humility. Christ is the humility of God embodied in human nature; the Eternal Love humbling itself, clothing itself in the garb of meekness and gentleness, to win and serve and save us. As the love and condescension of God makes Him the benefactor and helper and servant of all, so Jesus of necessity was the Incarnate Humility. And so He is still in the midst of the throne, the meek and lowly Lamb of God.”  – Andrew Murray

What a model we have in Jesus Christ!
You can be like Jesus! Jesus wants you to become like Him!  God is working to remake you in the image of His Son! 

Jeff Frazier 

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. – Matthew 5:21-22

This passage is the first of six contrasts that Jesus gives between the traditional teaching or interpretation of the Torah (Old Testament law) and his new teaching of what we might call “kingdom righteousness”. Six times Jesus quotes a traditional teaching (most often from the Torah itself) and six times he demonstrates how there is more that God wants for us. Each time Jesus does this, he uses the same pattern. It goes something like this, “You have heard it said….But I tell you…” 

One of the amazing things about this is that Jesus does not give any other authority to back up his teaching. Other Rabbis and teachers of Jesus’ day would always base their interpretation or teaching of the law on what some other Rabbi had previously said or taught. Jesus never does this; apparently he thinks it is authoritative simply because he is saying it!

This is one of the reasons why, at the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, the people are so amazed at Jesus’ teaching.

When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. - Matthew 7:28-29

Here in the first of the six contrasts, Jesus is comparing the consequences of breaking the sixth commandment; Thou shall not kill, with the consequences of having anger and resentment in our hearts. Of course it is no surprise to hear that murder is wrong. However, Jesus implies that to harbor anger and hatred toward another person is essentially to murder them in our hearts. Whoa! Think about that for just a minute…

Jesus is telling us that murder begins with the seeds of anger, resentment and hatred in the human heart. If these seeds are allowed to take root and grow, over time they can lead to terrible consequences.

See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. - Hebrews 12:15

In light of all this, consider this question – Who are you in danger of murdering in your heart?

It is very tempting to rationalize all this and say to ourselves something like, “Come on, let’s not be too extreme here. Oh, sure, I may have a few people that irritate me, a few that I could do without, and some that I just can’t stand, but I am not murdering anybody.” But look at what Jesus says next. He says that we put our souls at risk even when we call somebody a fool! The word ‘Racca’ which Jesus uses, literally means “empty headed”. In other words, whenever we think of another person as a nobody, an idiot, a moron, or a good for nothing, we violate the law of God and we damage our hearts (not to mention theirs).

Take a few moments to consider the following questions…

Have you ever wished any harm on another person?

Have you ever rolled your eyes (even internally) at someone who you thought was just stupid?

Have you ever ignored someone who you just didn’t feel was worth your time?

Have you ever found yourself talking with another person about how annoying or foolish “so and so” is?

Is there someone right now that you despise in your heart?

Confess these things to your Father and ask him for the grace and strength to release you from your anger, scorn and/or bitterness…

Lord Jesus we recognize that you alone have all authority in heaven and on earth, and we know that you alone have the words of life that we desperately need. Forgive our unforgiving hearts and free us from all anger and resentment. Teach us to love others as you love us – Amen.

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Monday, February 22, 2016

Ephesians 1:4-14 (selected)

In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace...

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

I love to hear people’s stories of how they came to faith in Jesus.

We call them faith-stories or “Gospel stories.” I’ve heard all kinds of stories; some are sudden and emotional; some are more gradual and cerebral; and some are wildly unpredictable.

In the text from Ephesians, Paul says:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit...

A faith-story, or gospel story, is what happens between hearing the word of truth and believing in Jesus.

One of my favorite stories of coming to faith is the story C.S. Lewis tells in his book “Surprised by Joy.”

Lewis had experienced a great deal of sadness and loss in his early life and, like many, had decided that there could not be a God if there was so much pain and suffering in the world.

But through several key friendships and after wrestling with his own inner turmoil over a number of months, he describes his coming to faith this way:

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms.

I love his honest and eloquent description!

“I gave in...and admitted God was God...” 

There’s the decision. That’s what John means when he writes:

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,

Several key things to notice here:

Notice that John is saying that we are not born as “children of God.” Now, we are all children of God in the sense that we are created by God; but that’s not what John is talking about. 

He’s talking about salvation here.

With regard to salvation, we are not born children of God.  

We are born alienated from God. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans: 

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

So what hope do we have?

Do we just try to do as much good as we can to outweigh our sins? I think this is the “go-to” spiritual strategy of most people in our culture. I think most people think that, if there is a God, what he wants most is for us just to be good people; you know, be a good neighbor, care about the less fortunate, don’t kill anyone, and hope for the best.

Now, those aren’t bad things, and surely God wants us to do good things, but it’s just not the point of Christianity.

So, if we can’t pile up enough good deeds to earn our place with God, then what are we to do? Are we all doomed like Grandpa Joe to just take what’s comin’ to us?

John says there are 2 conditions to becoming a child of God: receiving and believing.

What does it mean to “receive and believe” Jesus?

These terms are often used interchangeably in the New Testament, but if there is a subtle difference it would be the following.

“Receiving” comes from a word that means to take, to lay hold of, to accept with initiative. It’s not passive but active. 

For example: Someone offers you a Christmas gift, but it’s not yours until you reach out and take it. That’s what John means by “receiving.”

“Believing” is a word that means to trust fully in something or someone. 

For example: You’re on your way over the hills and through the woods to grandma’s house for Christmas. But your car runs out of gas and you’re stuck on the side of a country road. You have no choice but to try to hitchhike to a gas station. A farmer pulls over in his pick up truck and offers you a ride. You have to decided whether or not you trust him. To believe is to get in his truck and trust him to get you to the gas station.

So what are we being asked to receive and believe about Jesus?

1 Corinthians 15:3-4

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures...

It means to believe that Jesus is who John says he is; the eternal Word of God; that Jesus is God himself come in the flesh.

It means to believe that Jesus died on the cross for our sins because forgiveness of sin requires the shedding of blood.

It means to believe that Jesus rose from the dead to both prove his authority as the Son of God and to guarantee our own victory over death.

To receive and believe is more than intellectual assent to a set of theological statements. It is committing oneself to all that Jesus is and means. It means complete unconditional surrender. It means not just believing the farmer and his pick-up truck exist, but to get in the truck and trust the farmer to get you to the gas station!

I think there are two primary ways of receiving and believing. I call them “point in time” and “process.” 

“Point in time” people hear the gospel, accept it, and begin their spiritual journey with a decision.

“Process people” often hear the gospel, question it, wrestle with it, sometimes for years, and then culminate their process a decision. 

Very often “point in time” people can point to a specific moment when they received Christ, or came to believe. 

Maybe they attended a Billy Graham crusade; or walked to the front of a sanctuary to pray with a pastor; or stood on the beach gazing out at the Pacific Ocean and were overwhelmed by the magnitude of God’s grace.

But there is a clear moment of decision; often very dramatic or emotional.

For “process people” receiving and believing is much more arduous. It can be a long journey of learning, thinking, considering and questioning. I have heard people say that it took them 20 years to come to faith in Jesus, but that they couldn’t point to any specific moment.

I think C.S. Lewis’ story was a process story. He wasn’t convinced quickly but only after a long process of wrestling with himself, with truth, and with God.

Then, as a result of the process, he surrendered!    

So what’s your story?

Whether you are a “point in time” person or a “process” person, the most important thing is that you have “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation,” and you have received Jesus and believe in him.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Friday, February 19, 2016

So what if you pray sincerely and faithfully – and nothing happens? What if you ask God to move a mountain in your life and He seems not to answer? Does that mean He didn’t hear you? Does it mean God doesn’t care? Does it mean He lacks the power to act?

Sooner or later we all have to deal with the difficult problem of “unanswered prayer.” Read the following verses to learn how the Apostle Paul dealt with his experience of unanswered prayer.

2 Corinthians 12:7-9To keep me from being conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given to me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleased with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Paul had a deep and personal relationship with Christ. He believed in the power of prayer. He asked the Lord to remove some manner of suffering (we’re not sure exactly what Paul meant by “thorn in my flesh”) from his life – the request was not granted. Yet, Paul had come to understand that while God had not granted his request, He had answered his prayer. God gave Paul something else – the grace and strength to live with his suffering and to use it for greater ministry.

Is there something you have been asking God for in recent days that He has not yet chosen to give? 

Are you willing, like Paul, to ask the Lord if perhaps He wants to answer your prayer in a different way? 

Ask God to grant you the grace and strength to trust Him even in your weakness.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Jesus taught us that prayer is a relationship with God, and that as His children, we not only have access to God but that we can ask him to meet our daily needs.
In this passage from Mark, Jesus goes further – teaching us that prayer also gives us access to the power of God.

Mark 11:22“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go throw yourself in to the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

While we understand that Jesus is not promising to rearrange the topography at our whim, but rather is using a striking metaphor to emphasize the power of God, he does seem to be inviting us to ask not only for our basic needs, but for the “mountains” in our lives to be moved!

Do you have any mountains in your life right now? Are your mountains comprised of emotions like anger, grief or bitterness? Are your mountains built of strained or broken relationships? Do you have a mountain of financial stress – or perhaps of illness?

Are you ready to trust God with your mountain? Sometimes this means God will move your mountain; other times this means that God will give you his grace and strength to endure and the precious gift of his presence.. Jesus is simply reminding us that God is able to do that which seems impossible to us.

Take some time to identify the mountains of your life and heart. And take those mountains to God in prayer.

Pastor Brian Coffey

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Begin your time with God today by reading Psalm 42:1-2:
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you O God. My soul thirsts for the God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? 

Take a few moments in prayer to both quiet your mind and thank the God of the universe for the privilege of meeting with him personally today!

Hebrews 10:19-22Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…”

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt either unwelcome or unwanted by God? Have you ever felt that the mistakes or sins of your past have “disqualified” you from God’s presence?

Paul here is referring to the fact that in the ancient Tabernacle (and later Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem) the “Most Holy Place” was an inner room where the presence of God dwelled. This room was separated from the rest of the Tabernacle by a heavy curtain. The only person allowed to enter was the High Priest – and he entered only once a year to offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. But when Jesus died on the cross, scripture says that this veil was torn from top to bottom – indicating that now all who put their faith in Jesus have access to God himself. Paul is teaching us that through Christ we can approach God with confidence and assurance.

Take a few moments to reflect on the amazing truth that you have been given “confident access” to the very presence of God through prayer. Because Jesus has opened the way to God through his sacrifice on the cross – our sins no longer separate us from Him.

Because God welcomes us into his presence, we can tell him anything and ask him anything. What do you need to share with Him today? What would you like to ask Him today?

Pastor Brian Coffey

Friday, December 12, 2016

Question:  Why did Jesus curse the fig tree?

This question is a specific follow-up to the broader question of Jesus’ anger which we addressed in yesterday’s post. The incident of the fig tree is recorded in both Matthew and Mark. One of the strange things about Mark’s account is that he indicates that it wasn’t the season for figs anyway.

On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. And seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see if he could find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. And he said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it.  (Mark 11:12-14)

The obvious questions seem to be why would Jesus get so angry at a poor little tree for not having figs, when it wasn’t the season for figs anyway?

Like all Scripture, the key to understanding this passage comes from understanding the context in which it happened.  First, in looking at the general chronological setting of the passage, we see that it happened during the week before His crucifixion. Jesus had entered Jerusalem a day earlier amid the praise and worship of the Jewish people who were looking to Him as the King/Messiah who was going to deliver them from Roman occupation.  

The fruit of the fig tree generally appears before the leaves, and, because the fruit is green it blends in with the leaves right up until it is almost ripe. Therefore, when Jesus and His disciples saw from a distance that the tree had leaves, they would have expected it to also have fruit on it even though it was earlier in the season than what would be normal for a fig tree to be bearing fruit.  Each tree would often produce two to three crops of figs each season. There would be an early crop in the spring followed by one or two later crops.  This also helps explain why Jesus and His disciples would be looking for fruit on the fig tree even if it was not in the main growing season. 

The presence of a fruitful fig tree was considered to be a symbol of blessing and prosperity for the nation of Israel. Likewise, the absence or death of a fig tree would symbolize judgment and rejection. Symbolically, the fig tree represented the spiritual deadness of Israel, who while very religious outwardly with all the sacrifices and ceremonies, were spiritually barren because of their sins. 

It is also important to note that both Matthew & Mark tell us that this incident happened right around the same time as Jesus cleansing the Temple in Jerusalem.  By cleansing the Temple and cursing the fig tree, causing it to whither and die, Jesus was pronouncing His coming judgment of Israel and demonstrating His power to carry it out!

The lesson of the fig tree for us is pretty simple really, fig trees are for figs - our lives are for Christ!  We plant apple trees because we want apples, peach trees because we want peaches, orange trees because we want oranges, and fig trees because we want figs. What good is a Christian life if it bears no fruit? God expects that those who have a relationship with Him will “bear much fruit”.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.   - Galatians 5:22-23

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Question:  The Jesus I saw in the Gospels seemed much edgier and angrier than the kind and loving Jesus of my childhood. 

Okay, I guess this is not technically a question, but there is a very important question embedded in the above statement.  What is the deal with Jesus anger, and how are we to reconcile that with His compassion and mercy?

This is a very important question - one that will help to see Jesus as He truly is, and not just as we have imagined Him to be from our half-remembered childhood Sunday School lessons, or from the half-baked representations of Christ on the History Channel.

On the one hand, we really should not be surprised to discover that Jesus got angry.  Since Jesus was human “in every way that we are, except without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), it is not surprising that He showed anger. His anger never ran wild, however, and He was never blinded by anger or led astray by His rage.

Many times, we think of anger as a selfish, destructive emotion that we should eradicate from our lives altogether. However, the fact that Jesus did sometimes become angry indicates that anger itself, as an emotion, is not necessarily sinful. Ephesians 4:26 says, “in your anger do not sin” and not to let the sun go down on our anger. The command is not to “avoid anger” (or suppress it or ignore it) but to deal with it properly, in a timely manner.

One of the most important things for us to do in answering this question is to examine closely just what exactly Jesus got angry about?  Jesus often got angry at His disciples, especially Peter. He got angry with the Pharisees. Jesus got angry with the priests and publicans of the temple. It is very revealing what ticked Jesus off.

Jesus got angry at Hypocrisy
Jesus dealt harshly with those who appeared pious on the outside but had hearts that were far away from God.   Speaking of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees in His own day, he said in Matthew 23:27, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

Jesus got angry at Greed & Corruption
Nothing is more telling of Jesus’ outward expression of anger than when He drove out the money changers from the Temple Courts. Using the church as a vehicle for economic gain , instead of helping people to encounter God broke Jesus’ heart, and made Him see red!  Matthew 21:12-13 tells describes his reaction this way, “Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.”

Jesus got angry at Hard-Hearted Legalism
There are several places in the gospels that describe Jesus encountering religious teachers and leaders who refused to see the gracious work of God right in front of them because their hearts were hardened by their own self-righteousness.  Mark 3:2-6 describes one such scene as follows, “Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.” Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent. He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.”

Jesus got angry at Injustice and Oppression
There are many places where we see Jesus calling out the oppression of the poor and the defenseless.  One of the places that this shows up most clearly in Jesus, is in how He treated children.  If you want to really make Jesus mad, then do something to hurt a child. Luke records Jesus ominous warning for us, “If you harm one of these little ones, better for you that a millstone be draped around your neck and you be dropped into the depths of the sea” (Luke 17:2).

Here’s a question - what makes you angry?
If we are called to imitate Jesus, and if Jesus occasionally angry, then perhaps we should get angry at the things that made Jesus angry.

Ask God to help free you from your anger over petty slights and minor inconveniences, and move to your heart for what moves His!

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, February 10

Question:  Why do the books of Matthew and Luke have different accounts of Jesus' birth? Which record is correct?

Matthew says Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem then sometime afterwards is taken to Egypt to escape Herod. After a period of time his family decides to return to Bethlehem, but soon change their mind and travel to Nazareth instead.

According to Luke, however, Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth. They travel to Bethlehem because a census requires them to do so. While they are there Jesus is born in a manger. After his birth they wait for Mary to go through ritual purification, after which they travel to Jerusalem to sacrifice two birds at the temple. After the sacrifice they go home to Nazareth.

As is often the case with these kinds of questions, at first the two accounts may seem to be contradictory, but when you examine them closely, you find that they actually complement each other.

The basic chronology of Jesus’ early life from birth to growing up in Nazareth is as follows...

Joseph (Jesus’ adopted father) is of the lineage of King David, who was born in Bethlehem. The Romans in 5 B.C. require all those in Judea to return to their ancestral home so that they can be counted (this was done for the purposes of taxes).  Because of this decree Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem, the City of David. It is in the city that Christ is born in a manger (Luke 2:1-20).

On the eighth day after his birth he is circumcised according to the law of God (Luke 2:21).

Jesus is then brought to Jerusalem's temple, after forty days of purification required by God's law, to be presented before God. His parents make an offering to the temple of two young birds. It is also during their visit to the temple that a priest named Simeon, prophesied about his mission in life and blessed his parents (Luke 2:22-35).

Before Mary and Joseph leave the temple a woman named Anna, a widowed prophetess who lived in the house of God, blesses them as well (Luke 2:36-38).

Magi from east arrive in Jerusalem somewhere between 9-12 months after Jesus is born in order to ask Herod where is the new King of the Jews.  Although Herod does not have a clue where the Messiah was to be born he asks the priests and scribes.  They tell Herod the Christ would be born in Bethlehem. 

After leaving Jerusalem the Magi follow the same star that brought them to Judea.  When they arrive at the house they see Mary and Jesus and offer their gifts (Matthew 2:1-11).

After the wise men leave an angel tells Joseph, in a dream, to flee to Egypt because Herod wants to kill the child (Matthew 2:13-15).

Herod commands that, in Bethlehem and the surrounding area, all male children two years old and younger be put to death (Matthew 2:16-18).

After Herod dies an angel of the Lord again appears to Joseph in a dream and tells him it is safe to return to Israel.  After arriving in Judea, Joseph discovers Archelaus (son of Herod the Great) now reigns in Judea.  Fearful of going back and living in Bethlehem, Joseph again has an angelic being instruct him to go to Nazareth (Matthew 2:19-23, Luke 2:39). 

Jesus grows up in Nazareth and lives there until the beginning of his public ministry, at which time he then moves to the town of Capernaum.

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Question:  Why are there two different genealogies for Jesus in Matthew 1 and Luke 3?

Both Matthew 1 and Luke 3 contain genealogies of Jesus. But there is one problem. They are different.  Some point to these differences as evidence of errors in the Bible. However, the Jews were meticulous record keepers, especially in regard to genealogies. It is extremely doubtful that Matthew and Luke could build two entirely contradictory genealogies of the same lineage.

Luke's genealogy starts at Adam and goes to David. Matthew's genealogy starts at Abraham and goes to David. When the two genealogies arrive at David, they split with David's sons: Nathan (Mary's side) and Solomon (Joseph's side).

There are several different explanations for these two genealogies, but most New Testament scholars believe that Luke is recording Mary’s genealogy and Matthew is recording Joseph’s.

These two chapters may at first appear to be contradictory. Actually, however, they complement each other.

The genealogy in Matthew 1 is clearly that of Joseph, Mary's husband. Matthew records it for legal purposes. He is writing to prove to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah, and the Jews' custom in keeping records is to trace descent through the father. Legally, the Jews of Jesus' day looked on Jesus as a son of Joseph. Also, Joseph's lineage is given to emphasize the fact that Jesus had been born of a virgin. Because of a curse that God placed on one of Joseph's ancestors, Jesus could never sit upon the throne of David if Joseph had been His natural father.

Jechonias, Matthew 1:11-12, called Coniah in Jeremiah 22:24-30, was so evil God cursed him and his descendants, saying, "Write this man down as childless, . . . for none of his descendants shall prosper, sitting on the throne of David, and ruling anymore in Judah" (verse 30). Jeconiah, as his name is spelled in the Old Testament, had children (1 Chronicles 3:17), but he was childless insofar as none of his descendants ruled as king over Judah.

How, then, could Jesus be a descendant of David and qualify to sit on the throne? Enter the genealogy in Luke 3, which is Mary's. According to Jewish usage, Mary's ancestry is given in her husband's name. The original Greek merely says Joseph was "of Heli" or Eli (verse 23). In fact, since Joseph's father is said to be Jacob in Matthew 1:6, Heli is most likely Mary's father. Joseph, then, is his son-in-law.

Unlike Joseph's lineage, there was no block in Mary's genealogy to Jesus sitting on the throne of David. Mary's descent from David comes through his son Nathan, not Solomon or one of David's other children (Luke 3:31). To fulfill His promise to establish David's throne forever, God honored Nathan by making him the ancestor of the promised King who would sit on David's throne throughout eternity (Luke 1:31-33).
But how could Mary transmit David's royal inheritance (the right to the throne) to her Son, since all inheritances had to pass through the male line? According to Israel's law, when a daughter is the only heir, she can inherit her father's possessions and rights if she marries within her own tribe (Numbers 27:1-8; 36:6-8). There is no record that Mary had any brothers to inherit her father's possessions and rights. Thus, Joseph became Heli's heir by marriage to Mary, inheriting the right to rule on David's throne, even over Judah. This right then passed on to Jesus.

Both genealogies had to be recorded to establish Christ's right to rule on David's throne. Joseph's genealogy shows that Christ was a legal descendant of Jeconiah and thus legally could not sit on the throne of David in the nation Judah by inheriting the right solely through Joseph.

Notice that Luke's first three chapters mention Mary eleven times, hence, the genealogy from her.  Tracing a genealogy through the mother’s side is unusual, but so was the virgin birth. One of the most amazing facts about these two accounts is that the genealogies prove the virgin birth!  The curse on Jeconiah's line would have passed on to Christ if He were Joseph's natural son, but He was not!  He was the Son of God the Father, begotten by the Holy Spirit!

Pastor Jeff Frazier