In Christ Alone

How can man approach God?[1] People from the Aztecs to the Zulus have asked this since the dawn of humanity, and man has imagined thousands of answers.[2] These answers boil down to three possibilities.

  1. Man cannot do anything to approach God, and therefore can never approach Him.
  2. Man does something, or a group of things, to earn the right to approach God.
  3. Man cannot do anything to approach God, but God in His grace brings man to Him.

These possibilities are exclusive, as each includes a world view that is inconsistent with the others. It is logically impossible to select 1 and 3, for example, or some other combination.

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The Supremacy of Scriptures

The Holy Bible is the supreme authority in Christianity, as it reflects the person and power of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Most Christians take it far too lightly, and suffer confusion and powerlessness in life as a result.

The founder of the Hindu religion is unknown, but he bequeathed a political and cultural system entrenched in thousands of lives and dozens of cities to the residents in the Indian subcontinent. Moses granted his heirs a religio-legal system and a powerful nation on the brink of conquering its Promised Land. On his death, the Buddha left behind an oral tradition of teachings as well as a network of thousands of monks and lay followers, and many monasteries in northeastern India. Muhammad left a religion, a political system, and an empire for Muslims. Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim religious and political leaders ended their earthly lives with books, songs, people, cities, armies, land, money, and everything else befitting a mighty character in history.

Jesus Christ left behind little, at least by conventional historical standards. He wrote no book and sired no offspring. He controlled no lands, no cities, and no armies. He developed no political structure and did not establish a religious order. The Rabbi from Galilee did not even leave a building in His name. What did Jesus pass on to history? 120 followers (Acts 1:15), a little money, and His words and actions as recorded by others. With such a slim posterity, why is He the central figure in human history and the faith that He taught, Christianity, the largest religion on earth?

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Good Friday

God transforms our hardest days, our “Good Fridays,” into the glorious victories of Easter. But He does so in His time and way, and we must trust Him.

“How was your day?” Nancy asked as I trudged in the door from work.

“Good,” I replied, with drawn face, slumped shoulders, and a shuffling gait.

Nancy frowned, “You look like it was awful.”

“No,” I said, “Every day above ground is a good day.”

“Mark, I am your wife. You need to tell me the truth – not just lies that you think that I want to hear.”

“Today was good, in the same way that Good Friday was good. Jesus died a horrific death, but God worked wondrous acts and eternal salvation from it,” I answered.

Nancy gave up the questions and followed me to the bedroom. I changed my clothes and laid on the bed where she gave me a back rub. Finally in a safe place with people who cared, the tension rolled out of my muscles. The gates to my heart, shut tight at work since I had to be, or at least appear to be, the perfect doctor and leader, cracked open. Soon Nancy brought love into my dark castle, and we began to heal.

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Sticks and Stones

The world tells us that we are helpless against the insults of others. It insists that every hardship leaves a wound that will never heal. Our forebears thought differently, and better. 

“Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me.” I am old enough to remember a time when parents taught this pithy little rhyme to their children, and society at large believed it. We live in a new day, in which many Americans consider emotional injury as deadly, and more enduring, than physical injury. News accounts of emotional abuse, cyber bullying, and their mental health consequences such as depression, anxiety, and even suicide, pull at our heart strings. Girls, the lonely, and the young are at greater risk. Colleges, including those which my children attend, have safe spaces, trigger warnings, and strict rules against insensitivity and inflicting emotional trauma.

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Adventures in Athens – A Bodily Resurrection

The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter morning was physical, not just spiritual. Likewise, Christians do not live eternally as disembodied spirits, we will have perfect physical bodies.

During our recent trip to Athens, Anna and I wanted to see some of the key Greek places mentioned in the Bible. Philippi and Thessalonica were too far to travel during our stay, at least a six hour drive each way, but Corinth was close, just over one hour by auto.  About 12 miles west of Athens on the road to Corinth, however, lies another important Greek religious site, Eleusius and the site of one of the most renowned mystery cults.

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Easter – Passover Seder for Christians

A Christian version of the Jewish Seder supper that you can share with your family during the Holy Week of the Easter season. 

My wife Nancy is the finest woman I have ever known, and I rejoice daily that we have shared over 27 years of married life together. One thing about her and her family that I have always found so appealing is how they celebrate holidays. For Nancy, Christmas is not a day – it is a six-week party. Easter is the same way. We feast on Fat Tuesday, pray on Ash Wednesday, keep the Lenten season special, and celebrate the Holy Week, even though we are not Catholic. One important part of our festivities is a Christian version of a Seder Supper. The Seder is an important Jewish tradition, looking back at the deliverance of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, and looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. As Christians and Messianic Jews understand that the Messiah has come, we celebrate Christ.

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How was your day?

My wife Nancy and I celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary last week, and I have been reflecting on our years together. She works from home, raising our five children, and caring for her high-maintenance husband. She is utterly precious, and I value her more than diamonds or rubies. Almost every day throughout these years, Nancy has greeted me at the door when I get home from work. Her smile is warm and her embrace warmer. She is genuinely glad to see me, and always follows a hug with “how was your day?”

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Living While Dead

To strive is human, but give up the ambitions and worries of this world, seeking only God, is to have life as He intends.

Our church regularly performs Infant Dedication, a ceremony in which the parents dedicate themselves publicly to raise their child as a Christian and the congregation dedicates itself to supporting the parents in this holy work. Parents choose a special verse for their child, one intended to guide them in the ways of Christ through their lives. Psalm 23:1, Jeremiah 29:11, John 3:16, and Philippians 4:13 are popular.

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Seeking Signs

We look for signs to help us decide what to do. God faithfully provides them.

The US Presidential primaries are in full swing, and voters across the country are looking for signs. We want signs that a person is strong, signs that they can do what we want them to do, and signs that they can beat everyone who is running against them. We look for candidates with money, with an independent streak, and yet who agree with us. Our bizarre presidential election is the most vivid example, but races from sheriffs to senators feature the same drama.

Our need for signs is not only in politics; it is everywhere in life. Employers choose employees by looking at their training, experience, and ability to get along. None of these guarantee that the employee will be successful, but without a crystal ball or tea leaves to read the future, such signs are the best way a company has to choose the person with the best chance of accomplishing institutional goals. Patients seek signs that a doctor will make them well, and car buyers seek signs that a vehicle will make them happy. Interpersonal relationships are the same; men and women seek signs in choosing their friends and even their mates.

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The Weight of Sin

How could Jesus forgive the sin of the woman caught in adultery? It wasn’t just because He wanted to. 

One of the most famous passages in Scripture is the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 7:53 to 8:11). The storyline is that the Jewish religious leaders hoped to trap Jesus. They caught a woman, whom they had probably set up, in the act of adultery. They brought her, but not the man involved, to Jesus to judge. The Law of Moses was clear; people engaged in adultery were to be stoned to death. If Jesus had said to release her, He would have been in violation of the Mosaic Law. If He had said to stone her, He would have lost popular support, and been party to an injustice because the guilty man was not present.

In an amazing display of compassion and wisdom, Jesus told her accusers that whoever in the group was without sin should cast the first stone. None of them, even the most sanctimonious, could claim to be sinless, and so they melted away into the crowd. Jesus and the woman were left alone. He asked the woman “where are they that condemn you?” and she replied that no one remained. Jesus then said “neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin.”

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The Inevitable Incarnation

Many religions tell of God becoming man, because humans sense that we could not know God otherwise. But Jesus is different…divinely different.  

In 1819 using a razor and glue, the former American President Thomas Jefferson, one of the most brilliant men of his age, cut and pasted passages of the New Testament to create The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, popularly known as the Jefferson Bible. Jefferson’s Bible removed all of the miracles of Jesus, most mentions of the supernatural, the Resurrection, and all mentions of His divinity. In a letter to William Short (1820), Jefferson wrote that “Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of God.” Thomas Jefferson clearly regarded the man Jesus as a great moral teacher, but rejected the concept of Jesus as God.

He was not alone. The Koran teaches that Allah has no son, and that those who believe that he does will be destroyed. Many critics throughout history have lauded Jesus for his moral example but lambasted early Christians for making him God. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of Christianity; without Him Christianity could not exist. At the same time, Jesus is the stumbling block of Christianity; the gospel as written in the New Testament is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Greeks (1 Corinthians 1:23).

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Singular Events and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Science requires that we repeat events. History doesn’t allow it. Does science prove that Jesus did not rise from the dead?

Last Easter I was reading an article in the Washington Post about the Resurrection of Jesus, a popular topic at that time of year. Considering the source, I knew that the author’s conclusion would be something other than affirming the physical, bodily resurrection that is the cornerstone of authentic Christianity. As Paul wrote, “if Christ is not raised then our preaching is vain and your faith also is vain (1 Corinthians 15:14).” Genuine Christians may disagree on many things, but to deny the bodily resurrection of Christ is to deny Christianity; no real Christian can do it. The article met my expectations, stating that the sightings of Jesus after the crucifixion had a “dreamy sense” and suggesting that His resurrection was either spiritual or illusory altogether. This is a standard line of secularists and others seeking to discredit Christianity. Unfortunately, such people never provide reasons for their arguments except that “people can’t rise from the dead.” This apriori assumption makes it impossible for those who hold it to ever believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

On the face of it no other reason is necessary because in all of human history, as far as many people know, everyone has died. There have been many stories of people physically rising from the dead, but most are rendered suspect by the circumstances. Was the person really dead? Did they merely resuscitate? Is the whole story a myth? In most cases, it is impossible to verify the medical diagnosis of death, which is typically brain death. In other cases, the story bears all of the traits of myth, such as the Egyptian story of the “resurrection” of Osiris. Considering the purported resurrections commonly noted in history, it is easy to conclude that since everyone else died and stayed dead, Jesus must have also. If this is true, there must be some other explanation for the story in the Gospels, and Biblical Christianity must be false.

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The Problem is the Soil

Whether in Jesus’ Parable of the Sower or in day to day life, God’s seed is perfect. When we don’t bear fruit, it is because our soil is bad. The problem is us. But God saves us even from ourselves.  

Last week I was writing a commentary on Matthew 13. Verses 1-23 contain one of the most famous parables of Jesus, the Parable of the Sower. In it some seed fell on a hard path, other seed fell on stony ground, part of the seed fell on thorny ground, and more seed fell on good ground. The seed which fell on the walking path was devoured by birds before it could take root, and that which fell on stony ground took root but the ground was so shallow that the young shoot was scorched in the hot sun. The seed which fell on thorny ground also took root but the young plant was smothered by the weeds around it. Only the seed that fell on good ground produced a harvest.

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