Keep Your Head

Keep your head. That’s so much easier said than done.

When emotional situations arise, the easiest thing in the world is instead to abandon self-control. Throw a tantrum. Pitch a fit. Have a cow. Lose it.

And anytime you are involved in ministry — or life — hard situations are going to be thrown at you. When life is going smoothly, it’s easy to keep your cool. It’s when things go south that our self-control really gets tested.

Can we keep our head when others are pushing our buttons? That’s the real question.

Paul, the apostle, is writing from prison. From these dire circumstances, he can see pretty clearly what’s coming. But he remains calm and steady. Whatever might come — discouragement, persecution, or death — Paul knows what Jesus has accomplished on his behalf. He is convinced that Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, and his resurrection from the dead, has him fully covered.

The finish line is coming, and Paul has never been more confident in Christ. He has kept the faith. While he anticipates his heavenly reward, he has words of advice for young Timothy, the pastor who will succeed him and keep advancing the gospel.

Hard situations are going to come, Paul tells him. I’ve been through them. In fact, I’m going through them right now. And you’ll go through them too.

But whatever comes, remain calm. Keep your head. Endure and persevere.

Most of all, don’t ever forget this. Jesus has always had my back. And Jesus will always have your back, too. So no matter what, let’s keep the faith and a crown of righteousness awaits us both at the end of this life. In fact, a crown of righteousness awaits everyone who confidently waits for Jesus.

“But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:4-8, NIV).

Lord, I can so easily lose my head in tough situations. Fear rules. Anger springs up. I ask for your forgiveness for the times in the past I’ve lost my head. Help me to have the peace and strength you gave Paul. Give me your Spirit and grant me endurance and faith in Jesus that does not end until I receive my crown of righteousness from him.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 25, is Jeremiah 51:15-64, 2 Timothy 4:1-22 and Psalm 119:97-104.

Header image based on "Jesse Jackson: Hold Your Head High" by BK, CC By 2.0

Just Imagine!

The Corinthians were curious about this physical resurrection that Paul kept teaching about. It was quite different than what most Greeks traditionally believed about the after-life.

The Greek religion taught that after death, a person’s spirit would be delivered to the river Styx. There, if the person’s body had received a proper burial, he would be ferried across the river by the ferryman, Charon. Once across the river, the person would be faced with three potential fates.

The worst fate, reserved for those who sinned against the gods, was Tartarus, a dark place of eternal punishment. You might recall the story of Sisyphus, who had to keep pushing a large rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down the hill again and again. Or maybe you’ve heard about Tantalus who was made to eternally stand nearby a table laden with delicious food, but the table remains eternally out of reach.

The Fields of Asphodel were reserved for the vast majority. This was where you ended up if you were a regular joe, not too offensive to the gods, but not exactly a hero of the faith, either. The Fields of Asphodel were, as the name suggests, a vast plain containing grass and flowers upon which the dead lived and wandered aimlessly. Not exactly a glorious existence!

For the heroes and those who impressed the gods with their virtue and piety there was Elysium, a paradise where their spirits lived on in everlasting life.

None of these included a resurrected body. So it was a shocking thought to most Greeks that the afterlife would be a physical existence. They were curious, because this was like nothing they had ever heard before.

Paul’s response to their question was, “It’s going to be amazing! Your perishable body will become imperishable. Your not-so-glorious corpse will become glorious. The body that was placed in the ground motionless and powerless will be raised and be brought forth a powerful body. The body sown into the ground like a seed was a natural body. The body that will rise will be a supernatural body.

It’ll be the same body, Paul says. It will be your body. But what a difference between what you physically experience now, and what your physical existence will be then! It will be glorious. It will be amazing. The best way to put it is this: Your body today is modeled after Adam, the earthly man. But in heaven, your body will be modeled after Jesus’ glorified body.

Just imagine!

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” …So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body… And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:35, 42-44, 49, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for salvation. Thank you for heaven. Thank you that because of the cross and the empty tomb, I will enjoy an eternal — and physical — existence in your presence forever. I can barely imagine how amazing it will be!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, August 23, is 2 Chronicles 18:28 – 21:3, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 and Psalm 102:12-17.

Header image based on "Elysium" by Sundaram Ramaswamy, CC By 2.0

Of First Importance

Have you ever seen someone come back from the dead? No?

Me either.

But if it could be proven that someone actually did come back alive after they died, that would be earth-shattering. It would be utterly paradigm-shifting news.

Which is what Paul recognized, and he stated it clearly. “This is of first importance,” the apostle states.

Jesus died. He was buried. And then, on the third day, he was raised.

But it didn’t end there. He made one appearance after another, showing himself to be alive. More than 500 people were ultimately included in the group that became eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection. That group included Jesus’ own brother, James, as well as the apostles, and even Paul himself. Certainly, these were people who knew well who they were looking at when they saw him.

Paul says that this is the gospel — the good news — that he had preached to the Corinthians. It’s the message upon which the Corinthians had built their faith. And it’s the communication that would ultimately be the very thing that led the Corinthians to be saved for eternity.

It’s of first importance that we hear and believe this good news too. Because more than 500 people say that the resurrection of Jesus was real. And if Jesus rose from the grave following his brutal death on the cross, well then, we will rise too through faith in him.

Jesus’ resurrection is our guarantee of forgiven sins. His resurrection is our hope that with his help and in his strength, our lives really can change for the better. Best of all, his resurrection is our assurance that eternal life in heaven is waiting for us after our short sojourn here.

“Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you,which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. 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 Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters 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” (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for the victory of the resurrection. Thank you for all the blessing that your rising from the tomb guarantees to me — the forgiveness of my sins, the power to rise from the spiritual death of sin to live a new life here on earth, and the amazing hope of being with you forever in eternal life. Send me your Spirit, and change my heart, because it is of first importance that I deeply trust all this as fact.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, August 22, is 2 Chronicles 16:1 – 18:27, 1 Corinthians 15:1-34 and Psalm 102:1-11.

Header image based on "Thomas Doubts 3" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

Hope and Change

The resurrection of Christ is the central teaching of Christianity. The empty tomb is the place where hope is given birth.

And hope is vitally important. Without hope, our hearts go cold. Our happiness soon dries up. Our love of others — and God most of all — evaporates.

Guilt and shame take over. Frustration and fear take hold. Greed and selfishness take control.

Certainly, none of these provide a fertile environment for life-change.

The apostle Paul, standing before Felix (the Roman governor) and his wife Drusilla, is there to defend his faith in Jesus. He is a follower of the Way. This was the early name given to Christians by others. And truly he was a follower of the Way. Jesus had called himself “the way, the truth and the life.”

There with his faith on trial, surrounded by many who were pretty unlikely to ever change their minds about Jesus, it’s interesting to note what Paul says is the natural outcome of his hope in Christ. His hope has resulted in him becoming passionate about keeping his conscience clear. And not just before God. Before men too.

Still today, there is no better motivation for living according to the will of God. We call it “gospel motivation”: the good news of Jesus Christ, and the hope we derive from that good news, is the most pure and powerful energizer for personal life-change that exists.

The empty tomb is the place where hope is given birth. And the empty tomb is the place where powerful change is given birth as well.

“However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man” (Acts 24:14-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Sunday, July 5, is 2 Kings 10:1 – 11:21, Acts 24:1-27 and Psalm 80:8-19.

Lord, thank you for the hope of the resurrection. By your Spirit’s power, help me to use that hope to fuel my own striving to keep my conscience clear before you and before people.

Header image based on "Floyd W. Tomkins Let the resurrection joy lift us..." by BK, CC By-SA 2.0

He Rose. So Will You.

Jesus was doing some amazing stuff. He healed a blind man in Bethsaida. He was transfigured in front of the disciples, allowing his divine glory to shine through for a few brief moments. He healed a boy who had been possessed with an evil spirit ever since he was a small child.

And those are just a few of the highlights.

But Jesus was also saying some disconcerting things to the disciples. He told them that though he was the Son of God, he would suffer, be rejected by the religious leaders, and be killed.

In fact, Jesus didn’t just say this once. He emphasized again and again that it would occur. And each time, the disciples weren’t happy. Jesus’ words wounded and confused them.

But he always tried to reassure them. These bad things would occur. But they would not be final. Not final at all. Three days after his death he would rise from his grave. Not even death would be able to hold him.

The Bible tells us that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the most important event in the history of the world. The implications are staggering. If one person can defeat death, then certainly others will too.

And that’s why Jesus wants us to know. He rose. And all those who trust in him as “the resurrection and the life” will one day rise too. Not even death was able to hold Jesus. And it will not be able to hold us either!

“He said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise'” (‭Mark‬ ‭9‬:‭31‬, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, February 26, is Exodus 39:1 – 40:38, Mark 9:2-32, and Psalm 26:1-12.

Lord Jesus, thank you for winning the victory over death. Help me believe in you as the resurrection and the life. As the man whose son was healed from demon possession prayed, so I also pray: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

Header image based on "Garden Tomb Jerusalem" by Holt, CC By-SA 2.0

Ready with Hope

It’s interesting to see our human brain’s bias for the negative. And this bias comes out even in the Bible. Jesus had just shown his glory in the Transfiguration. He followed this up with the miraculous healing of a boy possessed with a demon.

Yet, when all of this is done, the disciples are depressed. How can this be? Because for a second time, Jesus is predicting his death.

But not just his death. He’s also predicting his resurrection. Yes, he is preparing his disciples for both his death AND his resurrection.

But what do the hearts and minds of the disciples dwell on? Answer: Not the resurrection part!

“When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, ‘The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.’ And the disciples were filled with grief” (Matthew 17:22-23, NIV).

Jesus is full of truth. He wants his disciples to be ready, to know about his impending suffering and death. But, just as strongly he wants the disciples to be “ready” with hope. He will defeat death! This suffering will not be able to keep him down. The tomb itself will not be able to hold him back! Victory is assured!

But the disciples hear only the first part. They have no ears for the resurrection, no heart for the coming victory. They’re not ready yet.

It’s not just the disciples, is it? It’s interesting that even in a modern Bible translation with a sub-title for this section, you’ll most likely find something like this: “Jesus Predicts His Death a Second Time” (These sub-titles are not part of the Holy Spirit’s inspired text; they’re simply editors’ “helps”).

Praise God that Jesus came not just to die. There’s an AND. He came to die AND rise. Life wins! Jesus replaces grief with hope. And this hope is not only for the life to come. It’s also a very powerful and sustaining hope for this life too! He who can defeat “Big Death” can certainly also defeat all the “little deaths” that we experience living in a death-filled world.

Joseph knew this. We see that in our reading today. We can, like Joseph, retrain our brains with that truth. We can begin to see the AND. While death is real, so is life. While sorrow is called for at times, so is joy. While suffering and defeat will happen, so will victory.

We’re not really ready, until we’re ready with hope.

Jesus, give me a smile today. You show us that even as we anticipate dark days to come, we can always look forward to a hopeful outcome–if not now, then in eternity. Your resurrection, Lord, is my hope and my everyday joy throughout life’s troubles and challenges.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, January 25, is Genesis 49:1 – 50:26, Matthew 17:14 – 18:9 and Psalm 15:1-5.

Header image based on "Obliging Smile and Desert Rose" by Bosma, CC by 2.0