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Understanding the Law, Sin and Death

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Question: Please help me understand this verse from 1st Corinthians …

“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” – ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭15:56‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Answer: This verse has challenged a number of people, and you can find a variety of explanations for it. I think the most important thing to note is that the verse preceding it reads, “Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O Death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).  So the passage in reference is in the context of Christ’s Resurrection victory over death… perfect for this Easter season! So whatever we say about death we need to understand that it is a defeated enemy.

So in that light, I believe that the point being made is that death would not necessarily be a fearful thing for people if it weren’t for sin. In fact death, we know from Jesus, is a doorway to New Life for the believer (John 11:11-13, 1 Thessalonians 4:13). But if a person dies in sin, rejecting the salvation of Jesus Christ, then death will have quite a “sting” – not just a sleep, but eternal death … what is sometimes called the “second death” (Revelation 2, 20, 21).  However, we know that the sting of sin itself, along with death – the ultimate sting of sin – has been defeated in Christ’s crucifixion.

Now when Paul refers to the “power of sin” in this verse, it is in the context of the law – God’s Law.  We must keep in mind that the Law’s primary power is not to make us holy (it’s cannot) … but to drive us to the Lord. In fact, when we sin, if it were not for the law, we would be ignorant of that sin. However, the Law shows us our sin and therefore has the “power” to move us toward God for salvation. The law is a terrible taskmaster by itself; it will never be satisfied. One good thing about the the Law however, it is that when we sin, it will send us crying for mercy to the Lord. … that is one “power” that we could ascribe to sin – when we break God’s Law, it shows us our need for a Savior.

I like what one commentator has said “without the law sin is not perceived; under the law sin has dominion.” … You and I would be bound to sin, and therefore the law of death, if it were not for Christ who has made us victorious over both the Law and death! Sin is merely the “grease” of both: the law and death. It’s almost like a math equation (engineer-types might appreciate this approach!) the law leads to sin, then sin leads to death. If a implies b, and b implies c, then a implies c… therefore the law leads to death. But take heart, we know even more so, the gospel of Jesus Christ leads to life!

Oh thank the Lord that we are free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2)!

In Christ our Risen and Victorious Lord!

Pastor Augie

Q&A: Why Do We Pray “If It Be Your Will?”

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Q: I have a relative who would like to know where in the Bible it says, “God Willing.”  Why do we say that when we pray?

A: There are others, but here are two significant places in the Bible where we are encouraged to pray according to God’s Will:

  • “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)
  • “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

When we pray, we pray for God’s Will.  Jesus both instructed us to do that in the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6), but He also modeled it when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:42).  Sometimes people will say that we weaken the prayer by adding the word “if” … but Jesus, himself did it.  Furthermore, we are not praying “if you can do it, God” … because we know He can do all things.  What we are praying is “if it be your will” … meaning that we do not see all things like God does, and we do not presuppose to have all knowledge.  It is entirely possible that God’s will is different than what we desire – we are sinful, weak and selfish.  Wouldn’t it be better to receive what is God’s will, rather than the desire of our sinful heart?

Blessings,

Pastor Augie

P.S.  Praying “if it be your will, Lord” is actually similar to praying “in Jesus’ Name” … since God can’t do anything in the name of Jesus, that is contrary to His will.

Does Jesus Really Want Us to “Hate” our Family?

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Q: Does Jesus really ask us to hate our father, mother, wife, kids, brothers an sisters in order to follow him?

A:  There is a verse in the Bible that does sound like Jesus is saying that.  It is Luke 14:26.  But to really get at it, we must consider not only the context, but the original language in which the New Testament was written – Greek.  As well, we must follow our number one rule of Bible interpretation, and that is that Scripture must interpret Scripture.  It is doubtful that you could make the case that the rest of Scripture indicates that Jesus wants us to hate anyone, let alone our closest family.  So let’s consider the language of this verse:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26, NIV)

The Greek word “misei” that is behind the English word which is here translated “hate,” brings up what I believe is an interesting situation that happens occasionally in New Testament Greek.  That is that just as we sometimes find it hard to put the right English translation on a Greek word … so did the GREEK have a hard time properly expressing the shade/nuance of a HEBREW word or expression!

What this means is that this word does typically mean “hate” – a strong hostility or detest – in the Greek.  But in the case of Luke 14:26, it is suggested that the writer was trying to express in Greek something that Christ would have likely said in Hebrew or Aramaic.  The way the Friberg Analytical Greek Lexicon (dictionary) denotes this is to show this second meaning for this Greek word:

“Hebraistically, requiring single-minded loyalty in discipleship prefer less, love less (LU 14.26)”

In other words, the editors recognize that it is possible that this Greek word was used to translate a Hebrew word or expression that had more-or-less the idea of loyalty… putting one thing in priority over the other – rather than disgust or hate.

Armed with this information, it’s interesting, because now when we go back to the English, it is easier to understand how even “hating oneself” is to be understood.  Because clearly, God doesn’t want us to “hate” ourselves.   To the contrary, He instructs us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves!  And He tells us that GOD loves us – even enough to send His Son to die for us.  Why would He want us to detest someone whom He loves enough to allow Jesus to die for?  No.  He loves those people, and us.  Therefore I believe this understanding of the word as simply one of priority/loyalty/preference is the best understanding.

Loving God, neighbor, AND family, 

Pastor Augie

 

Does the Bible Say There’s Life After Death?

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Q: A loved one, who is nearing death, asked me if the Bible actually says there is life after death. Where in the Bible does it say that we will live forever after our death on earth?

A: The first is perhaps the most obvious and well known John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

1 John 5:13 is probably my favorite: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” Not just because it tells of eternal life, but it gives the confidence in salvation not based on our works, but simply believing in the name of the Son of God!
The 23rd Psalm is really popular at funerals, not just because of the wonderful imagery of green pastures and quiet waters, but because of the last verse (23:6) which reads, “Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

We’re in the season of Lent right now, so these words of Jesus from the cross, as he was dying, to the thief dying at his side, state very strongly that there is life after death: “Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”” (Luke 23:43)

When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he told Lazarus’ sister Martha: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)

So you see, the Bible speaks very clearly about the reality of life after death.  It holds out MUCH PROMISE for those who believe in Jesus. (Not just that they’ve been good, or tried really hard, or are a “spiritual person.”)  Because it is also very direct about the fate of those who reject Jesus:

Right after John 3:16 & 17 which give hope, comes this stern warning in verse 18: “but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

People mistakenly think that when you die, that’s the end.  But that is not the case.  1 Thessalonians 4 16-17 tells us “for the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. “

This was meant to be an encouragement to the disciples, because of their faith.  But Jesus himself warns in Matthew 25 that after we meet the Lord in the air, comes judgment …

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.…  41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Jesus also says in John 14:6“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

So there is much hope for the believer in eternal life, but a warning for those who do not believe in Jesus to put their trust in Him!  You might ask your family member if he has been baptized, and then simply give him this promise from the Bible: “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:16).  If he believes, but doubts His faith, remind him that even weak faith isn’t no faith.  And to let Jesus be his strength when he is weak.  And to put his trust in Jesus.  Even the thief on the cross was received into heaven with a life of sin, but a repentant heart!

May God bless you as you minister to others with the clear hope from Scripture that we are promised eternal life with God through Jesus Christ!

In His Name,

Pastor Augie.

INRI, IHS, and other “Cross”-words

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Have you seen the “crosses of Calvary” display outside our church?

crosses of Calvary picture

on display outside Redeemer by the Sea

Folks have asked me a few questions:

1.  Why three crosses?  Matthew 27:38 gives us the answer to that question:

“Then two robbers were crucified with him, one on the right and one on the left.”

2. If Christ’s cross is in the center, why does it have that sign on it that reads “INRI?”  John 19:19 gives us that answer:

“Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.'”

3. Then why isn’t it “JNKJ?” Because the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek (John 19:20).  In both Latin and Greek the first letter of Jesus’ name is an “I,” and in Aramaic (a Hebrew dialect of sorts) Jesus’ name begins with an “I” sound.   The “R” comes from the Latin “Rex,” meaning King.   The last “I” has a similar explanation to the “I” representing Jesus’ name – it is also the first letter/sound of the word “Jews.”

4. The cross hanging in our sanctuary has the letters “ihs” on it.  Why is that?  This is for a different reason.  The Bible does not record that such a sign was hung on or near the cross of Christ.  However, in the Church, it is used as an abbreviation for the first three letters of Jesus’s name in Greek.  Jesus’ name in Greek sounds like “yay-zoos” and is spelled iota, eta, sigma, omicron, upsilon, sigma in Greek.  The first three letters, when written in their closest English characters are “IHS.”

5. Why just three letters?  Church artists and theologians like the Trinitarian reference of just three letters.  Three persons in the Godhead – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Three letters on the cross.

6. I’ve heard it said that these letters stand for “In His Service.”  To which I respond, “Sure!  Why not?”

I’d like to leave you with these two thoughts from Max Lucado’s book, He Chose The Nails.  Speaking of this sign that hung above Jesus head, he writes: “There is no person God will not use.”  If you recall the criminal on the cross beside Jesus who begged Jesus to remember him when He came into His Kingdom (Luke 23:42).  It is entirely likely that the criminal did not know who Jesus was, nor that He was a King, until he read that sign.  God used sinful, cowardly and pagan Pontius Pilate to save a man’s soul!  Pilate’s intent was likely to mock the Jews and use Jesus as a warning to others that would put themselves up against Caesar’s reign!  But instead, God used Pilates actions to save someone… there is no one that God will not use.

And “there is no language God will not speak,” Max Lucado writes.  The sign was written in the three most prominent languages of that time. This was so that anyone who could read, could read it.  God always makes sure that His message is accessible to everyone – no matter what their language!  He does this through various means, but those means always point to the cross of Christ.

As you and I ponder the meaning and significance of “INRI,” “IHS,” and other words associated with the cross of Christ … may we never fail to marvel at the lengths that God will go to in order to show His love for us!

Marveling at the wonder of the Cross,

Pastor Augie.

 

Why Lent?

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Lent is upon us!  Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 5th this year, and ends on Easter Sunday which falls on April 20th this year.  Lent is a period in the church calendar that is designed to be a penitential season of reflection and preparation.  The word Lent derives from a root word meaning “lengthen.”  In the season of Spring the days are lengthening. That’s perhaps a part of what Lent is about.  But also, historically in the Church, the practice of observing the Easter vigil was “lengthened” to 40 days – and thus this period of time became known as Lent.

Why forty days?  In the Bible, 40 days is a holy and complete time.  We see significant events in the Bible occurring in 40 days.  Moses was on Mt. Sinai receiving the 10 commandments for 40 days.  During the flood of Noah it rained for 40 days and 40 nights.  When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, it was for 40 days.  And so the early Christian Church set the calendar for Lent at 40 days.  (Note – when you add up the days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday you actually get more than 40 days.  That’s because the Sundays in Lent don’t count toward the 40 days.  On Sunday, the Lord’s day, the Church breaks from the penitence for one day of rejoicing and praise recognizing that Christ has overcome the grave and is alive and reigning! See Matt. 9:15)

So what happens during the 40 days?  Since Scripture does not mandate what is to happen during Lent, there is freedom and variety in how to observe this period of preparation.  I would suggest that anything that we can do to increase our awareness of Christ’s sacrifice, and what it means for us, is beneficial.  So at our church this means that we change things a bit by adding some things and taking some things away.  During Lent, we add midweek worship services that provide an extra opportunity to gather for prayer, meditation and reflection of the Lord’s passion and crucifixion.  And we also take some things away.  Usually decorations and celebrations are kept to a minimum, and in our worship services we generally choose hymns with a more somber tone, meaning that hymns and liturgical responses with “Alleluia’s” (a word expressing jubilation) are usually avoided.

What about for you?  I likewise recommend that in your individual observance of Lent that you also add some things and take some things away. For the period of Lent, you may want to consider adding some extra devotion time.  For your convenience, we make free Lenten devotional booklets available so you can have some special time of focus through Scripture and prayer.  You also may want to add in some time of corporate worship. Each Wednesday in Lent we offer a special evening service that is simpler in form and allows you the opportunity to sing and pray with other believers.  But also for the forty day period of Lent you may want to take something away.  We call this “fasting” and it is a spiritual discipline that has been practiced for centuries.

We see that in the Bible fasting is a spiritual discipline that was practiced by prophets, kings and apostles.  We see that many significant Biblical characters were blessed by God through fasting – Moses, David, Elijah, Nehemiah, Esther, Daniel and Paul, for example.  Even our Lord Jesus fasted as a way to draw closer to the Father while He was being tempted by the devil in the desert (see Matthew 4).

What comes to mind when you think of fasting?  Is it something that only “super-spiritual” people do?  Is it something you think people do for attention?  Is it a gimmick?  Is it a diet program?  It is none of those things.   A simple definition of fasting is abstaining from something for spiritual purposes.  Often it’s food that we forgo when fasting, but really anything that we give our attention to is something that could be removed in order to create more room for God in your life.  When you fast, your desire is to draw closer to God and to ask God to reveal himself to you.  Sometimes our lives get so full of the blessings of God, that we crowd out the One that is doing the blessing – God Himself.  Sometimes we have so much going on that if God wanted to speak to us there is so much noise and so much activity in our life that we couldn’t hear Him if He said something to us.  Remember, God often speaks in a whisper (1 Kings 19:12).  The purpose of fasting is to increase your awareness of and dependence upon God.

That is my prayer for you, that this period of Lent will be used by God to draw you closer to Himself, and to increase your awareness of how God is working in and through you to proclaim the cross of Christ.

Remembering and proclaiming Christ’s Sacrifice,

Pastor Augie

Q&A – Responding to Sandy Hook

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In response to the recent tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut at Sandy Hook Elementary, one of our members posed the following observation and question. After that is my response…

Q: “The people’s hearts have been broken. Their minds are open for change. Is this an opportunity for God to make a comeback ? … What can we DO?”

A: What you have said is so true. Our society does need God… everyone does! However, one of my professors at the seminary said it well – “The Lord allows His gifts to be rejected.” He allowed JESUS to be rejected. He allows his forgiveness and SALVATION to be rejected. And so He allows His blessings and PEACE to be rejected as well. This is actually a function of the GOSPEL… That we have freedom. (If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed… John 8:36)

How do we get our nation to actually desire God again? There’s no simple answer to that question, but I fear that it will need to get worse before it gets better.

I could go on and on…. but I’ll just end with a simple reminder that we are to be “salt and light” Jesus says (Matt. 5:13-16). His Kingdom does not come by sight, nor by force. We sow the seeds of the Gospel and leave the results to the Holy Spirit. In the mean time, we do not let Satan rob our peace, joy and security! Those can never be taken from us.

This is a very brief response to a deep and significant problem.  The battle is fought on the battlefield of prayer. (Ephesians 6:18)

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