Thursday, March 31, 2016

Oh yeah, by the way…He is still risen!

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”  - Mark 15:37-39

Mark doesn’t use a lot of words to tell us what is going on, but there is a lot of meaning packed into those few words. The moment that Jesus dies, the temple curtain is torn from top to bottom. Keep in mind that this temple curtain was no flimsy drapery; it was not a shower curtain. The curtain which separated the Holy of Holies was heavy and thick, almost as substantial as a wall. According to the Rabbis, the curtain was a handbreadth in thickness, and woven of seventy-two twisted plaits, each plait consisting of twenty-four threads. It was sixty feet long and thirty feet wide. Two of them were made every year, and according to the Talmud, it needed three hundred priests to manipulate it. The Holy of Holies symbolized the very presence of God and only the High Priest could enter there once a year on Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement). The people depended on the High Priest to make the acceptable sacrifices for their sins. Look at what the writer of Hebrews has to say about how Jesus Christ has changed our access to God by His death on the cross.

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.
– Hebrews 7:25-27

Therefore, 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, 
- Hebrews 10:19-22

Jesus is our High Priest!
The Temple is His Body!
The massive curtain that kept us out has been removed!
The perfect sacrifice has been made!
We can come in now with confidence and assurance!
Do you grasp that?  WE can come in!

Right here in this passage, Mark shows us the first person to “enter in” after the crucifixion. His confession, “Surely this man was the son of God” is momentous because the very first line in the first chapter of Mark refers to Jesus this way, “The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1).  Up to this point, nobody had yet figured out just who Jesus really was. Even Peter’s profession of Jesus as the Christ (Mark 8:29) proved to be a partial understanding until after the resurrection. The first person to “get it” was a Roman Centurion!

The only person a good Roman would ever call the “Son of God” was Caesar himself, but this man gave that title to Jesus. This centurion would have been a hardened and brutal man, used to seeing blood and death. But something about the death of Jesus so deeply impacted him that he was moved to confess the deity of Christ. The centurion had seen it all. The loud cry of Jesus is unusual because victims of crucifixion usually have no strength left, especially when near death. But Jesus’ death was no ordinary one, nor was his shout the last gasp of a dying man. It was not a cry of defeat, but a shout of victory. At the beginning of the crucifixion, the centurion was an unbeliever. But he heard Jesus pray for him, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

It really is amazing to think about the fact that Jesus’ disciples, who had been told by Jesus repeatedly that this would happen, were confused and they all fled in fear. The religious leaders and teachers of the law, who studied the Scriptures daily, rejected the Son of God as they stood mocking Him in the crowd. It is a pagan Roman soldier (and a dying thief) who “gets it” and “gets in”! 

Nobody is beyond the love of God!  Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done, the love and forgiveness of God is available to you through Jesus Christ! His death has paid for your sin, and His resurrection from the dead promises you eternal life! 

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Just another reminder that…He is still risen!

Then the disciples went back to their homes, but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.  They asked her,  “Woman, why are you crying?”  “They have taken my Lord away,” she said,  “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.  “Woman,” he said,  “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”  Thinking he was the gardener, she said,  “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”  Jesus said to her,  “Mary.”  She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic,  “Rabboni!”  (which means Teacher).  Jesus said,  “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet returned to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them,  ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news:  “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.        – John 20:10-18

On the morning of the resurrection, Jesus didn’t want Mary to hold on to Him. Why not? I have often wondered about this passage in John’s Gospel. I have wondered why Jesus would tell Mary not to hold on to Him? Is it a bad thing to cling to Jesus? Aren’t we supposed to stay close to Him?

One thing is clear, Jesus didn’t mean that Mary was not to touch Him at all, because He told Thomas to touch Him and to see that He was the real thing (John 20:27). He told her not to “hold on to Him”, but what did He mean?

Mary had experienced a powerful encounter with Jesus. But He didn’t want her to stop there. Mary still wanted to hold onto Him. Mary’s reaction was likely motivated by several things. One is simply her loving devotion to the Lord. Mary is overwhelmed by the events of the morning, and as her grief turns to joy, she naturally embraces Jesus. Another motivation is Mary’s desire to restore the fellowship that His death had broken. She had lost Him once, and she was going to make sure she didn’t lose Him again--she wanted to keep Jesus with her always. But Jesus spurred Mary on and commissioned her to share with the disciples about His resurrection. Jesus had not yet risen with God; He was still on the move. He was essentially saying, “It’s not going to be the way it used to be. You can’t hold on to Me in the old way.”

In loosening Mary’s hold on Him, Jesus was, in effect, saying this: “I know you desire to keep Me here, always present with you. I know you want everything to be just the same as before I died. But our relationship is about to change. I’m going to heaven, and you will have the Comforter in My place. You need to start walking by faith, Mary, not by sight.”

Jesus told us that it was better for us that He return to the Father. We, like Mary cannot cling to Jesus’ physical body. We need to know and cling to Him through faith. We do not need to physically hold onto the "man" Jesus. We need to embrace Him through faith. One day we will see Him face to face, but for now, we know Him and we live in His presence by faith.

One of the biggest tasks we have as Jesus' disciples is to not to hide ourselves away in a church and in the presence of the Lord at the expense of going to share His love with others. We have a message of hope and forgiveness to share with others who are trapped in hopelessness and despair. As His disciples, we are not to spend the majority of our time in “holy huddles”, but out in the world, reaching the lost and the hurting, and offering hope in the risen Jesus.  

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Just in case you have forgotten already  - He is still risen!

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, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.  Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.  For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.  Whether, then, it was I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.  But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised.  And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.                                
                                              -       1 Corinthians 15:3-14

Many biblical scholars agree that the first few verses of this passage are an example of the earliest Christian creed. A creed is a clear statement intended to be recited in order to teach and affirm certain beliefs. Creeds were very important in the early church because only the wealthiest individuals could afford to own a written copy of Scripture. Usually a church or group of churches would own a few copies of portions of Scripture. The idea of a personal Bible was totally unheard of in the first century. Believers would recite and memorize creedal statements together as a form of worship and as a way of encouraging and strengthening their faith in Jesus Christ.

The truly remarkable thing about the passage above is that it is entirely centered on the resurrection. In other words, the origin of the Christian faith hinges on the historical reality of the resurrection. Notice how specific Paul is in this passage. He mentions names and numbers of people to whom the risen Jesus had appeared. Then he goes on to say that most of them are still alive! Why would he mention this? Even in the earliest days of Christianity there were skeptics and doubters of the resurrection. Paul is essentially saying that anybody who doubts can simply go and ask these folks if it is true. How could Paul make such a statement in a letter that was going to be widely read and circulated if Jesus had not appeared to these people? 

The very fact that Christianity started and grew at all is evidence for the resurrection. The philosopher and scholar William Lane Craig writes: “Even skeptical New Testament scholars admit that the earliest disciples at least believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead.” For Jews, the Messiah was viewed as a figure that would be triumphant and rule on David’s throne, not a figure that would be crucified and die. The resurrection undid the catastrophe of the crucifixion! The Messiah, who had died, is risen! The resurrection validated and verified the claims that Christ had made about his own identity.

The origin of Christianity rests solely on the fact that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
Listen again to what the apostle Paul says about the importance of the resurrection. “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”

The early Christians clearly grasped the tremendous importance of the resurrection; they understood that everything about their faith depended on this singular historical fact. Should we do less? Let’s take a cue from our spiritual ancestors in the early church and affirm the fact that our Lord is risen and our God has conquered the grace every time we come together. The resurrection is not something that we should remind ourselves of one Sunday a year; it is the truth that we should celebrate and affirm every moment of every day that we live!

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Monday, March 28, 2016

Easter is over with for another year. Actually, it's not supposed to be. According to the Christian calendar, Easter is not just one day; it is a season, 50 days long. But let's face it, most of us don't really celebrate Easter as a season.  We have one busy Sunday, and then a few more days of making ourselves sick with chocolate eggs and jellybeans. Then it's back to normal (whatever normal means). The day after Easter often strikes me as a little bit of a let-down.

Why does this happen? For those in ministry, I can say that one reason may be the fact that we are extremely busy during Holy Week, planning several different services and events. Easter morning is a marathon, and then we crash. Perhaps you haven’t been a part of our 10 services in 3 days, but all the same, I'm guessing you can relate to having a whole bunch of work go into something, and then, when it's done, feeling a little more tired than happy. But besides the fatigue factor, I think there's a deeper reason for the day-after-Easter blues.

Easter is filled with the message of the power of new life, of death's defeat. Jesus triumphs over His death and over ours, and it's a day full of hope and joy. So we sing with all the joy we can muster. We're full of alleluias as we get into the spirit of the day. "Christ is risen!" we say as we shake hands. "Indeed!" The resurrection seems true on Easter Sunday. It seems possible to believe that things can be different than what they are. The Easter vibes stuck with us through a nice brunch and family get-together, but then...Monday comes.

There's the rub. In a lot of ways, we're still waiting for the resurrection, and it's hard to celebrate while you wait. Even when we do experience little bits of the life of Christ growing in our souls, it's never a complete transformation. We sing about resurrection but we also know that we're not there yet. For all our Easter joy, we're still the same people that we were before Sunday. We still have to go to a job that we don’t like, or we wish we had a job that we didn’t like. A friend still has cancer. There are still bills we can’t pay. People are still hungry, and sad, and struggling with painful relationships, agonizing decisions, and a thousand other things. No wonder the day after Easter can be a little bit of a let down.

I don’t think it was this way for the disciples on the day after the resurrection! I don’t think they were sitting around depressed and bored when they heard that their Master was alive, do you?

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”  When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.  – John 20:19-20

I have often thought about the resurrected Jesus appearing to His disciples, saying "Peace be with you."  And I have thought about Jesus showing them the wounds on His hands, and in His side. You know, even Jesus didn't get rid of all His scars.

It's easy to fall into a pattern of wishing that faith would fix things, that God would intervene and immediately turn our confusion to clarity and our sadness to joy, and then feeling disillusioned when it doesn't work out that way, and wondering if there was something wrong with us..or with God. It's a hard pattern to live in. We want solutions, and when there aren't any, surely it must be somebody's fault.

Perhaps the resurrection doesn't work in the way we expect it to work. Perhaps we experience God's grace, and all the new life that comes with that, but we still have the same wounds and scars we did before. Jesus is transformed in the resurrection, but not so much so that He loses His injuries - they just aren't killing Him anymore. Maybe that's how resurrection works in our lives, too. We carry scars and wounds, but because of the resurrection, we know that they are not fatal.

Easter isn't supposed to magically change's supposed to remind us that everything has already been changed because of what happened on the third day!

So let’s live this day with grace and courage, with patience and hope. The resurrection is real, even if it's not easy.

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Friday, March 25, 2016

Begin your time with God by reading the following verses… 

When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. "You will all fall away," Jesus told them, "for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee." Peter declared, "Even if all fall away, I will not." "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "today — yes, tonight — before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times." But Peter insisted emphatically, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you." And all the others said the same.
- Mark 14:26-31

It is hard to blame Peter and the other disciples for their bold promises of loyalty and faithfulness to their Master. 

Think about it for a minute…what would you have said to Jesus if He told you that He was going to have to die and you were going to desert Him? Would have said, "Well that sounds depressing! I hope I don’t blow it Jesus"?

The disciples weren’t being insincere; they meant what they said at the time. They just didn’t have any idea of what was to come later that night and they didn’t have any idea of what was really in the depths of their own hearts. Of course we know that Peter will deny his Lord and they will all desert Jesus when He needed them most.

It is not that Peter does not love Jesus; he does! He loves Him very much and his devotion in that moment is genuine. But Jesus knows Peter (and us) completely. He knows that none of us posses a love or devotion strong enough to overcome our fear, insecurity and sinfulness.

No disciple, then or now, can remain perfectly faithful to Jesus purely in their own strength. They could not, and neither can you or I.

What Peter (and the others) will discover later when they meet the resurrected Christ is that it is not the strength of their love for Jesus that matters, but it is the strength of His love for them!

Do you love Jesus? (It is okay to say yes….) If you love Jesus at all it is because He has loved you first and enabled you to love Him! This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. – 1 John 4:10

Lord Jesus I confess that although I love you, I am still weak and unfaithful, but I praise you that my salvation does not depend on the strength of my commitment to you, but on the unbreakable power of Your love for me! - Amen

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Today is "Maundy Thursday". The word Maundy comes from a latin word mandatum which means "command". This stems from John 13:34 where Jesus said, "A new command I give you: Love one another." 

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, "I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God." After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, "Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way, after the supper he took the cup," saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."
- Luke 22:14-20

I want to draw your attention to the very first thing Jesus says to His disciples in the passage above. He says that He has eagerly desired to eat this Passover meal with them before He suffers. 

Why do you think Jesus says this? Is Jesus just really, really hungry? He has eaten many meals with His disciples and they have shared Passover suppers together every year. What is so special about this meal? 

This is the Passover meal at which Jesus would introduce the concept of the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Of course His disciples would not fully understand the meaning of His words until after His death and resurrection. The Passover was a celebration of God’s deliverance of His people from slavery and oppression in Egypt. Jesus was showing His followers, through the elements of the Passover meal, how He was the fulfillment of all that it symbolized. He (Jesus) was to become the source of God’s deliverance for all people from the power of sin and death!

One reason then that Jesus was so eager to eat this Passover with His disciples was that He knew He would be introducing a whole new purpose and understanding for this meal which would be celebrated by His followers all over the world for centuries to come.

But there is another reason for His eagerness to eat this meal with His followers. These men were His closest friends. Jesus had chosen each one of them to follow Him. He had walked, talked, laughed, cried, ate, slept, taught and prayed with these men. They had spent years sharing their lives together. Now it is the eve of His suffering and death. His arrest, trial, and execution await Him. It only makes sense that He (Jesus) would want to be with those closest to Him in a moment like this. Wouldn’t you want the same?

When we come to the Lord’s Table, we do so not just as isolated individuals, but also as a community of people in need of grace. What we have in common far outweighs all of our differences: we are all followers of Jesus!

Do you believe that Jesus eagerly desires for you to come to His table?
Do you, like Jesus, eagerly desire to take communion with those closest to you?
Do you look forward to coming to His table together?

Lord Jesus, we praise you for the beauty of your sacrifice and we know that we are hopelessly lost without you. We thank you, Lord, that you eagerly desire for us to come to your table and share in your grace and mercy. Amen

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Begin your time with God by reading the following passage from Matthew…

Jesus entered the temple area 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 into a den of robbers.” 
- Matthew 21:12-13

A little historical background:

After His triumphal entry to the city of Jerusalem, Jesus heads straight for the temple. If Jerusalem was the center of the Jewish world, then the temple was the center of Jerusalem. This was the time of the Passover celebration, a week long festival during which tens of thousands of pilgrims traveled to the great city to worship and celebrate. 

This was also tax time for the Roman government (very convenient of the Romans huh?). In the outer temple courts, the money changers set up their booths to exploit those who need to pay the Roman tax. There were also those selling animals (doves, lambs, etc.) for sacrifice in the temple. The temple priests were required to inspect the animals being offered for sacrifice to be sure they were acceptable. They (the priests) would often reject animals brought in from the outside and force people to buy those being sold inside the temple courts, which were 10 times more expensive. The priests got a cut of the profits from the sellers and they both got rich off of the poor people trying to follow the rules.

Jesus saw all of this exploitation going on and He lost it. He was angry not just at the exploitation and corruption, but at the fact that those who were being exploited were people trying to obey the law and worship God. Worse still, it was the ones who were supposed to be leading the people to God who were doing the exploiting!
When you realize what was really going on, you can understand why Jesus was so upset. In fact it kind of makes you angry too doesn’t it? 

Before you get too upset, consider this…

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is sacred, and you are that temple. – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed long ago, but the temple in which God lives by His Spirit is alive and well today, it is His people, it is you and I!

Let’s turn this story inward for a moment…Jesus comes to His temple today. 
He comes to your heart and to mine, what will he find there? 
What do you think Jesus wants to “overturn” in your life? 
What does Jesus want to drive out of your heart? 
What areas of your life are getting in the way of your desire to worship God with a pure heart?

Close your time by praying these words from Psalm 139:23-24...
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

This week is Holy Week, sometimes called Passion Week. It is the week leading up to Easter. It is the week in which Christians all over the world remember the passion and sacrifice of their Lord and Savior. It is the most significant week in our faith as it commemorates the events leading up to the most significant event in history, the Resurrection!

Begin your time with God with the following readings…

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?” The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”
 – Matthew 21:10-11

Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him. “But not during the Feast,” they said, “or the people may riot.” - Mark 14:1-2

There is a sense in which the story of Christ’s passion begins right here. Can you feel the tension in the Gospel story rising? Jesus is coming to the holy city, Jerusalem. Jerusalem was the religious, social, and economic center of Jewish life. Jesus is coming into the very center, the heart of things, and Matthew tells us that the whole city is stirred. Not only is the city stirred and excited, but the religious leaders are also worked up about Him. Jesus has not exactly been on good terms with the religious leaders of His day before this point, but at least they weren’t trying to kill Him! Now the story turns and things really begin to heat up.

It is as if everything that has come before has been almost preliminary to the events of the coming week in Jesus’ life. In reading the Gospels up to this point, we know of Jesus’ virgin birth. We know Jesus as a great Rabbi through His teachings. We know Jesus as a divine agent through His miracles. We even have some hints of who He really is and what His real purpose is (although even those closest to Him were still confused about these things). But it is not until this week that our picture of Jesus truly becomes clear. It is through this week that all of the pieces of God’s redemptive plan finally come together in the person of Jesus Christ.

For too many of us, Holy Week is really just another week. Oh sure, we celebrate Easter on Sunday by going to church, and then to brunch, and eating way too much, and feeling guilty about it on Monday. However, very few of us take the time to meditate and reflect on the events of this week and their significance for our lives as Christ followers today.

But today, just as more than two thousand years ago, Jesus is coming! He is coming into the very center of our lives. His arrival stirs people. Some are stirred to fear and anger towards Him. Some are stirred to curiosity and questions about Him. Some are stirred to humility and repentance because of Him. Some are stirred by love and adoration for Him.

Take a few moments to let the Spirit of God stir your heart about the coming of Jesus.

Oh Lord, may your arrival in my heart stir me to greater love and adoration of you, and may your arrival in our world stir many to repentance and humility.
Amen, Come Lord Jesus!

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Monday, March 21, 2016

Today we conclude our study in “the reliability of the Bible.” On Friday, we began our two-part blog entry on the uniqueness of the Bible. We examined how the Bible is unique in its circulation, unique in its translation, and unique in its survival. Today we will study the Bible’s uniqueness in its teaching and influence.

4.      The Bible is unique in its teaching.
The Bible is a historically accurate and detailed book. In The Cambridge Ancient History, we read, “The Israelites certainly manifest a genius for historical construction, and the Old Testament embodies the oldest history writing extant.” Consider The Table of Nations in Genesis 10. The Table of Nations provides an astonishingly accurate account of history that lines up with what one would learn in an ancient world history class. Archaeologist Professor W.F. Albright wrote, “It stands absolutely alone in ancient literature without a remote parallel even among the Greeks” or Romans, who were known for being quite meticulous in their early histories. While there are places and people mentioned in the Bible that archeological digs have yet to uncover, there have been no discoveries which discount the people and places referred to in Scripture. It has yet to be disproven.

Lewis Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, wrote, “The Bible is not such a book a man would write if he could, or could write if he would.” We see evidence of the first half of this statement in the diversity of personalities in the Bible. The level of honesty in the Bible about the sins and failures of its heroes was unknown in the ancient world.

Consider today’s writing style versus that in ancient eastern cultures. We are accustomed to modern biographies which are often avant garde and highly concerned with detail, absolute accuracy, and skepticism about facts until they can be verified. Modern biographers are less interested in painting people in a positive light and far more concerned with painting an accurate picture of a person, even if it means highlighting one’s moral failures and exposing the skeletons in his or her closet. In fact, biographers are often met with successful book sales if they can dig up factual information that taints a person’s character or calls into question what the public thought to be true about a person.

This, however, was not the case with ancient biographies. These works, often called hagiographies, are most concerned with painting a broad picture of one’s impact. At times, they exaggerate a person’s abilities or traits even to the point of bending the truth—all in an attempt to make them look favorable. The purpose of the hagiographer was not to get every detail nailed down, but to prove what a remarkable person their subject was in history.

Unlike the literature of its time, the Bible contains very earthy material about its supposed heroes—flaws and failures. Take Peter, for example. Peter is called “petros”, meaning “the rock”. He was one of the key disciples in the establishment of the church in Rome. But the Bible includes the embarrassing detail of Peter’s denial of Christ. This points to the reliability of the text. Why would the author invent that part of the storyline? At that point in history, one would not include the rejection of Peter’s Lord if it was an invented story.

Another example is the women at the tomb as the first eyewitnesses to Jesus’ resurrection. The Siddur, or Jewish prayer book, contained a prayer for men that read, “Blessed are you, Hashem, King of the Universe, for not having made me a woman.” A woman’s testimony was not accepted in a court of law. At that point in history, if a person wanted to invent and fabricate the details of the resurrection, the last audience he would choose to witnesses the resurrection of Jesus are women. So why women? Because they were the ones to whom Jesus first chose to reveal Himself!

Also consider the little details recorded in Scripture, such as the account in the Gospel of John when Jesus is on the shore following His resurrection. The disciples have returned to their fishing career, and reminiscent of their first meeting, Jesus tells them to cast their nets on the other side. They do not realize it is Jesus speaking to them, but perhaps because they had been fishing all night with nothing to show by daybreak, they obey His command. Their net teamed with so many fish that they were unable to haul it in at first. John records that there were 153 fish. Why include this detail? Numerologists think there is meaning in every number and attempt to figure out what 153 “means”. But there is no hidden code in that number. All it means is that someone counted them because they were fishermen. And this detail is recorded in Scripture because the story is true!

5.      The Bible is unique in its influence.
The Bible is utterly unique in its influence on culture and history. No other book comes close. Think about the Bible’s influence on art, music, literature, and government. It is unparalleled in history.

Consider the incredible musicians and their scores that have been inspired by Scripture: Handel’s Messiah, Mozart (who was not a Bible-believing Christian, but some of his best pieces were inspired by the Bible), pop singers, and gospel songs.

Consider the amazing works of art inspired by the Bible: Michelangelo’s David and The Sistine Chapel, Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, Vincent van Gogh’s The Good Samaritan and The Raising of Lazarus, and over 100 pieces by Rembrandt.

Consider the wonderful works of literature inspired by the Bible: works by Dante, William Shakespeare, John Steinbeck, Charles Dickens, John Donne, and John Milton. The list is endless.

Phillip Schaff writes, “If every Bible in every city were destroyed, you could reconstruct it entirely from the quotations on the shelves of public libraries.”

Consider the orphanages, schools, universities, hospitals, missions, and charitable organizations that have been established because of the influence of the Word of God on people’s lives.

One of the criticisms that you hear about Christianity is the evil done in the name of God, among which include the Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, and the Crusades. There are some dark spots in our history of trying to follow God. But all of this pales in comparison to the massive amount of good because of the influence of God’s Word on people’s lives.

So we close out this series of posts by returning to the reason that we believe the Bible is God’s holy, inspired, infallible, inerrant Word. I choose to believe the Bible because it is a reliable collection of historical documents written by eyewitnesses during the lifetime of other eyewitnesses. These eyewitnesses report supernatural events that took place to fulfill specific prophecies and they claim their writings are divine rather than human in origin.

The implications of all of this? Devote yourself to knowing the Word of God!

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Friday, March 18, 2016

Our topic today is “the uniqueness of the Bible.” In this two-part blog, we will study how the Bible is unique in its circulation, unique in its translation, and unique in its survival. On Monday, we will examine how the Bible is unique in its teaching, unique in its influence, and what the implications of these truths are for us today.

These are statements that you can talk about openly with people who may be skeptical about the Bible. The points that we will explore today and Monday are verifiable facts, whether or not you believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God.

The Uniqueness of the Bible

1.       The Bible is unique in its circulation.
The Bible has been read by more people, published in more languages, and distributed in more countries than any other book in history. There is no comparison. You may find a higher circulation of another book in a particular month, but in all of history, nothing compares to the popularity of the Bible.

In 1990, the British and Foreign Bible Society (which, for many decades, was the primary publisher in London of the King James Version) published one copy of the Bible, every three seconds, around the clock in order to keep up with the demand. That amounts to 22 copies printed every minute, 1,300 copies produced every hour, and 32,876 copies created every day (24 hours per day, 7 days per week). What book comes close to this? And that only accounts for the 30 year period in which the British and Foreign Bible Society was the primary distributor of Bibles.

The Cambridge History of the Bible writes, “No other book has ever known anything approaching this constant circulation.”

2.      The Bible is unique in its translation.
One of the first major translation projects is the Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament. This project was completed in 250 B.C. The Bible was the very first massive translation effort. There was no other work that came close to this prior. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that by 1966, the entire Bible had been translated into 240 languages and dialects. Portions of the Bible have been translated into 739 languages. This equals 1,280 languages and dialects!

3.      The Bible is unique in its survival.
What other book has ever been as persecuted, attacked, and had such widespread efforts to eradicate it as the Bible? No other book! And yet it has survived. Jewish scribes kept tabs on nearly every letter, syllable, word, and paragraph. They had a meticulous attention to detail!

Thomas Cahill wrote a trilogy titled The Hinges of History. The three books (which offer a quick, compelling, and easy read) are titled The Gifts of the Jews (about the influence of the ancient Jews on history and present culture), The Desire of Everlasting Hills (discusses Roman civilization’s impact on our culture), and How the Irish Saved Civilization (the story of Ireland’s heroic role form the fall of Rome to the rise of Medieval Europe). In the latter work, Cahill explains that while the great libraries of Rome and Byzantium were burning under barbarian invasions heading into the Dark Ages, Irish monks living in obscurity in the British Isles were busy by candlelight copying and preserving for us the literature of antiquity, among which are the illuminated manuscripts of the Bible.

If you were a scribe or monk, every letter—every stroke of your pen—would be scrutinized. You could write all day, get to the end, have a bad moment or nod off, make a mistake, and you would have to start over. It had to be perfect. God used this in the preservation of His Word!

Let’s compare the New Testament with Shakespeare’s plays. An article in the North American Review reported that in every one of Shakespeare’s 37 plays, there are nearly 100 readings still in dispute by Shakespearian scholars. The New Testament text of nearly every verse may be said to be settled by general consent of scholars with only a dozen exceptions. That is 200 years for Shakespeare, and 2,000 years for the New Testament![1]

If this book had not been the Word of God, it would have been destroyed long ago, completely gone from history. In 303 A.D., Emperor Diocletian in Rome issued an edict to restrict Christians from worship and to destroy their Scriptures. He made it Roman political policy to stop Christians from worshipping and eradicate the Bible. Twenty-two years after this edict, Emperor Constantine issued another edict that 50 copies of the Scriptures should be prepared at the governor’s personal expense.

In 1778, the French philosopher Voltaire said, “One hundred year from now there will not be a Bible left on earth except one looked upon by antiquarian curiosity seekers in a museum.” Voltaire is dead, and the Bible has survived. Ironically, 100 years after Voltaire’s death, his home was used for a Bible distribution center in Europe! We serve an awesome God!!

Bernard Ramm, a noted biblical scholar writes, “A thousand times over, the death knell of the Bible has been sounded, the funeral procession formed, the inscription cut on the tombstone, but somehow the corpse will just never stay in the grave.”

Earl Radmacher, president of Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, quotes Nelson Glueck. Glueck was not an orthodox, evangelical Christian. He was the former president of the Jewish Theological Seminary (a secular Jew) in the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and one of the three greatest archaeologists of his day. Radmacher said, “I listened to him [Glueck] when he was at Temple Emmanuel in Dallas, and he got rather red in the face and said, ‘I’ve been accused of teaching the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scripture. I want it to be understood that I have never taught this. All I have ever said is that in all of my archaeological investigation, I have never found one artifact of antiquity that contradicts any statement in the Word of God.”

Join us on Monday as we dive into two more ways the Bible is unique: in its teaching and in its influence!

Pastor Jeff Frazier

[1] Stowe, Professor C.E. Origin and History of the Book of the New Testament, Both the Canonical and the Apocryphal. London: Sampson Low, Son, and Marston, 1878. pp. 80-81.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Today we examine the “problem” of miracles. Most skeptics approach all of these other tests of the Bible’s reliability with a preconditioned bias against miracles. How can I believe in donkeys that talk, virgins who give birth, and the dead raised to life? We’re not going to examine each individual miracle in the Bible to prove its validity, but we are going to look at why we can believe in the miraculous and supernatural without feeling like we have to check our brain at the door.

A little background: Fifty years ago Newtonian physics reigned. The primary philosophical thrust of Newtonian physics is that there are observable, fixed laws of nature that govern everything. Today, however, Newtonian physics does not reign; it has been replaced with quantum theory. Notice the word theory. According to quantum theory, all we can know is that there are customary ways in which things operate. So we’ve moved from fixed, observable laws that do not alter (we just don’t know all of them yet) to quantum theory that suggests there are some things that seem to be customary or usual, but that’s about all we know about the universe. If that is true, if we’re moving away from certainty in some ways—from fixed, observable laws—I think there is room for more that we don’t understand or don’t know when it comes to the miraculous.

Skeptics of the miraculous use circular reasoning. They argue, “Miracles cannot happen, therefore miracles have not happened.” Skeptics will say, “I’m scientific, reasonable, and rational. I just cannot believe in the supernatural. Because I reject the miraculous, I cannot believe the Bible.” The problem is that this is the least scientific approach of all. The whole point of the scientific method is to come without a subjective bias (as best you can) in order to observe, reflect on what you see, make a hypothesis, experiment, and then reevaluate based upon your observation.

The scientific method has its limits. By their very nature, miracles are supernatural events. They are unprecedented and cannot be retested and observed in a laboratory. The scientist who believes in the miraculous is not rejecting the scientific method, he or she is simply acknowledging its limits.

There is good reason to believe in the miracles of Scripture. First, there were many eyewitnesses who saw firsthand and attested to the reality of the miracles recorded in the Bible. One could argue, “Ah, but they all had an agenda! They were trying to make it appear as if Jesus had performed miracles to prove He was the Messiah.”

This leads us to our second reason to believe in the miracles of Scripture: the testimony of hostile witnesses. Hostile witnesses are those who observed firsthand the teaching and miracles of Jesus, but still rejected Him as the Messiah. You will notice that many of these hostile witnesses never dispute the miracles He performs. They feel threatened and angered by the authority and teaching of Jesus. They reject the idea of a Messiah who comes first as a suffering servant to wear a crown of thorns before He comes as a conquering King who wears a crown of victory. But they do not dispute His miracles. If Jesus had not performed the supernatural and all of the miraculous stories were fabricated, He would have fallen off the pages of history as another crazy man claiming to be someone He wasn’t. He would have been disproven and discredited in His own time by all of those who were hostile to His teaching.

Third, His disciples were willing to give their lives for Jesus. Now martyrdom does not prove the truth of the message one dies to uphold. Many people have sacrificed their lives for a false hope. But martyrdom always proves that someone believes so deeply in something that they are willing to make the greatest sacrifice—their own life—in order to defend it. For some, the “thing” for which they make the ultimate sacrifice is a cause. For the disciples, it was a Person. The disciples believed so deeply that Jesus was the Messiah because they had heard His teaching, witnessed His miracles, and observed a life of perfect obedience to the Father, that they died to make sure others knew what they believed to be the Truth.

The purpose of this series of posts has been to give us rational reasons for why the Bible is reliable without using the Bible to prove itself. That is not an argument for becoming a Christian or believing in Jesus in and of itself. It’s an argument to say the Bible is reliable, accurate, and historically verifiable. This Book isn’t bunk. It isn’t inaccurate. It hasn’t been altered. You can trust it.

Now when you open it, and you study what Christ says about Himself, you come to what C.S. Lewis calls the “trilemma”. Christ says of Himself such radical and shocking things that you’re left with three options: He is either a lunatic, a liar, or the Lord of all creation.

Perhaps he was a lunatic—a nut job on the level of a man who thinks he is a poached egg, as Lewis puts it.

Or was He a liar, which makes Him worse than the devil of hell himself knowing He is not the Messiah, knowing He is not divine, and yet deceiving people.

Or He was who He said He was. Lewis asks, “What option is not left to us that everyone wants to choose?” Well, that He is a good man, a great moral teacher, a wise sage giving good advice for life. He never said that about Himself. He intentionally left that option off the table.

So the argument we’re making here is that this is reliable. And if it is reliable, you open it up and realize that you have to do something about Jesus. What will you do with Jesus?

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Last week, we examined the question “Why do you choose to believe the Bible?” I heard from several of you who found the blog entries helpful, and I wanted to pick up with that theme again for the remainder of this week.

Today, we are going to examine the question, “What about all the contradictions in the Bible?” How do we begin to formulate a response?

First of all, you may be surprised to learn that the number of alleged errors or contradictions in the Bible is very small. Second, these alleged contradictions do not involve any major event or key doctrine of faith. If you visit a website written by skeptics which lists all of the apparent errors and contradictions, and if you examine these carefully, you will discover that there are not truly as many discrepancies as many claim. The “contradictions” that do exist are largely grammatical, textual, and sequential. Once again, they are not about key doctrines of faith.

One of the common “contradictions” that skeptics point out is the varying accounts in the Gospels of the wording on the sign above Jesus’ cross. What did the sign read?
§  According to Matthew’s Gospel, it reads, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews” (Mt. 27:37).
§  According to Mark’s Gospel, it is inscribed, “The King of the Jews” (Mk. 15:26).
§  According to John’s Gospel, it reads, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (Jn. 19:19).

Skeptics will say, “They don’t all say the same thing! They don’t line up! Jesus can’t be who He said He was!”

Let’s look at that argument rationally. What do all of these Gospel writers agree upon in their accounts? They all mention Jesus as the one on the cross over whom the sign hung. They all read “King of the Jews.” All of the accounts indicate that a sign was erected. And all of the Gospels agree that Jesus was crucified. We’re haggling over a tiny discrepancy in the order in which things were said—and a word or two left out—when the massive weight is that all of these accounts agree.

This type of argumentation happens over and over and over again when we look at alleged discrepancies or contradictions in Scripture. It is important to point out that the burden of proof is on the one who claims the Bible is full of contradictions and not the one who believes it to be true and accurate. As Christians, we often feel on the defensive when someone comes to us claiming that the Bible is full of errors and contradictions. But the burden on proof is on the skeptic to prove the reason why it is a meaningful contradiction.

Consider another example. When did Jesus first appear to His disciples after His resurrection? All of the Gospels record that He appeared to His disciples, but it seems not all of them say that He appeared the same way. Luke 24 and John 20 mention that He appeared in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. He walks through walls, appears to them, and instructs doubting Thomas to touch him and see that it is really Him and not a ghost.

Matthew, on the other hand, never talks about an Upper Room. Matthew’s first mention of the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to His eleven disciples (for Jesus had appeared earlier to the women at the tomb) is outside of the city of Jerusalem on a mountain in Galilee. What are we to make of this?

When we think of history, we think of a chronological, progressive account. But that is not how the ancient writers wrote history. Matthew doesn’t mention the Upper Room, but he also doesn’t say that it didn’t happen. He never claims that this was the first post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. It’s an argument from silence. What was most important to Matthew was the Great Commission—the appearance of Jesus before He ascended and His command to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.

A third example involves Judas’ death. How did Judas die? It depends on what book of the Bible you read. In Matthew 27, Matthew indicates that Judas died by hanging himself. In Acts 1:18, Luke records that Judas fell headlong into the field of blood, and as a result, his insides burst open and spilled out. Which of these two accounts is correct?

There are many plausible explanations for this. One may be that Judas tried to hang himself and failed. I knew of a young man once who attempted suicide by hanging. He was a heavy-set man, and the beam broke. By God’s grace, his attempt failed and he is alive to this day. Maybe Judas was so distraught that he attempted to hang himself, failed, and then cast himself over the edge.

Furthermore, Matthew does not say that Judas died from hanging; he simply writes that Judas hung himself. Maybe the branch broke after he died and his body tumbled into that field and his insides burst open.

We do not know the answer to that question, but we do know that there are enough very plausible explanations to this apparent “contradiction”. These contradictions do not disprove the reliability of the Bible.

Join us tomorrow as we consider the problem of miracles!

Pastor Jeff Frazier

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Praying Scripture

Are you ever unsure about what you should pray?  Do your prayers sometimes become dull or repetitive?  Do you feel like you’re praying “wrong?”  First of all, you are not alone, many people feel this way when it comes to prayer.  One of the best ways to deal with these feelings of inadequacy or uncertainty in prayer is to pray Scripture!  Praying the Scriptures allows you to use the words and emotions of the Bible to gain more confidence in your prayers. 

Engaging the Bible and praying are the two primary methods for developing a relationship with God. In fact, all other spiritual disciplines have their foundation in the disciplines of reading the Bible and praying. While many of us tend to think of prayer and Bible reading as separate spiritual practices (e.g., first I pray, then I read the Bible), they can be even more powerful when combined into one practice of “praying scripture.”

There are many different ways to pray Scripture.  You can pray the exact words of a Psalm that matches you heart.  You can recite the prayers of others recorded in Scripture.  You can pray as you read through a passage.  One of the best ways of praying Scripture I have found is to pray the promises of God!

Praying God’s Promises
God loves to hear his own words prayed back to him! When a small child crawls up on the lap of their father and says, “Daddy when are you going to take us to the zoo like you promised?” the father smiles and assures his child he has not forgotten and is very much looking forward to doing what he promised (when the time is right). In the same way, our heavenly Father delights to hear us remind him of his promises to us. The Bible is in fact a great big prayer manual that should fill and guide our prayers each and every day.
In Genesis 31:2, God makes a promise to Jacob. Involved in that promise is one of the most faith-giving promises in Scripture—“I will be with you”. A promise that means God will do us good and pour out his favor upon us! Then later, when in deep crises, Jacob cries out to God in prayer and reminds God of his promise to him. Listen to what he says...

But you said, ‘I will surely do you good’... and Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good.’ - Genesis 32:9,12
Sometimes people struggle with how to apply the promises in prayer correctly. Is it right for us to take promises given to the people of Israel or Moses or David, and apply them in prayer to our own situations?  Basically, the answer is a qualified “YES”. 

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.  - 2 Corinthians 1:20
Not only is Jesus the ultimate fulfillment of all the promises, but he is the key to the promises. We may say that the promises are made ultimately to him and for him and about him.

In my own Bible, I have highlighted hundreds of promises with a green highlighter so I can find them quickly and use them for prayer when needed.

Here are just a few suggestions to get you started on how to be specific in praying the Scripture...

When you or someone you know is fearful about the future, pray these words...

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.  - Isaiah 26:3
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.  For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us.  - 1 John 4:18-19
The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? - Psalms 118:6
When you or someone you know is struggling with sin, pray these words...

For the LORD hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. - Psalm 69:33
I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  - Ezekiel 36:25-27

When you or someone you know is in need of guidance, pray these words...

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.  - Psalms 32:8
This is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever. - Psalms 48:14
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  - Proverbs 3:5-6

When you or someone you know is questioning if God hears and answers prayer, pray these words...

I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. - Psalm 34:4-5
For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. - Psalms 72:12
In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.  - Psalms 86:7

When you or someone you know needs to know that God is near, pray these words...

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.   - Psalms 91:1

The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. - Psalm 145:18

Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.  - James 4:9

Pastor Jeff Frazier