Satan’s Relentless Pursuit to Take Us Out

I had been in full-time, vocational ministry for just over 30 years when, for the first time in my life, I gained new insight into the depth of the evil Satan possesses.

After my son, Jordan, took his life I was crippled in every way, en route to being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts myself.

As you can imagine, during that first year, I, numerous times, broke down into screaming madness on the floor.

Later, as I reflected back on those moments of unspeakable pain, I recalled how intense the battle was for my mind. I remember distinctly a voice in my head telling me to “finish the job. Go see your son. Your family will be much better off without your broken mind. Finish the job.”

Logic says that, at that point in my life, being 100% useless to the kingdom of heaven here on planet earth, Satan would’ve moved on to someone else.

But he didn’t.

Satan didn’t care that I was beat down.

His goal? Finish the job. Take me out. Hurt my family deeper.

I learned from a counselor once, “You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.”

According to the Bible, the devil exists. And he hates everything about you.

If you’ve placed your faith in Christ, you are an active threat to his plans.

If you’ve never placed your faith in Christ, you potentially could do that one day. That makes you a potential threat.

He. Hates. You. And won’t stop attempting to take you out.

Marriage in shambles? Just lost a loved one? Just diagnosed with cancer? Suffering from crippling depression? Facing unanticipated financial crisis? Been recently betrayed. Wrestling with addiction? Lost your job? (Insert here your most recent crushing life event.) The list goes on…

Satan doesn’t care how hard life is for you. He’s coming after you to finish the job.

Two gospel writers, Matthew & Luke, record the temptation narratives (the “showdown in the desert” between Christ and Satan), recorded in chapter 4 of each gospel.

There are a dozen sermons in those passages. Mine here is just one:

After failing to get Jesus to sin the first time, Matthew records, “Then the devil..” (4:5)

Satan wasn’t going to give up.

After failing yet a second time, Matthew records in verse 8, “Again, the devil…”

He still wasn’t going to give up.

**While the Cross offers us mercy, the devils offers us none.**

Finally, Jesus ordered Satan, “Away from me, Satan!” And Satan had no choice but to leave.

But Luke adds this ominous warning: the devil “departed from [Jesus] until an opportune time.” (4:13)

Paul reminds believers that, because of Christ, “we overwhelmingly conquer through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) The disciple, John, put it this way: “Greater is he who is in us, than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn. 4:4)

This biblical truth is catastrophic to the work of Satan.  So, naturally, he works tirelessly to get us to forget it.

This way he can continue his relentless, systematic, and methodical strategy to take out families and individuals. Once and for all.

You can’t fight an enemy you don’t know exists.

My objective here is to remind you we have an enemy.

But, he is no match for the risen King, Jesus Christ, at whose presence the devil cowers in terror.

“Put on the whole armor of God,” an imprisoned Paul wrote, “that you may be able to take your stand against the schemes of the devil.”

Soli Deo Gloria.

For Narnia, Nick

Toxic Leadership

Jesus warned his disciples, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Translation:  Be kind & respectful.  But, being kind & respectful doesn’t mean being a naive idiot.

These examples from Psychology Today and Forbes are a hint of the myriad of resources out there should you Google “toxic leadership.”

We’d all like to to believe everyone we hire and/or work alongside is a solid, honest individual with a healthy work ethic. I think I speak for everyone on planet earth when I say – nothing could be further from the truth.

Recently, I read a pamphlet titled, Toxic Leadership, by Tobin Perry, where he cites five toxic personalities within the context of leadership. I’ve included four of them here (the fifth one was similar to the others).  Although Perry writes from a vocational ministry perspective, the principles pertaining to each personality translate across all vocations.

Additionally, I added two “toxic personalities” I strongly believe need to be included in the list. Each includes a brief description of the personality listed.

NOTE:  It’s important to know that many toxic personalities come with a remarkable ability to use passive-aggression as an art form.  At its root, toxic personalities are, on various levels, abusive.  If you work alongside one or more of these personalities, hopefully you have a supervisor who will validate your concerns, and then has the courage to address it.  If the personality is your supervisor, this list should at least give you insight into his/her behavior, help you engage in further research about said personality and, hence, help you learn how to coexist with them.

Ever met, or worked with, these people?

  1. The Blamer – This is the person who habitually plays the “victim card.” One thing you’ll never hear from this person is, “Sorry – it was my fault,” since this would force them to take responsibility for whatever went wrong. It would be a miracle of biblical proportions for this person to ever “own” a mistake/bad decision, apologize for it, and learn from their mistake. On the contrary, their objective is to pass the blame. This person needs to be taught to own their mistakes, learn from them, and grow from them.
  2. The Old-Schooler – “there’s no school like the old school.” While we should be extremely cautious about always believing “newer is better simply because it’s newer”, this person is almost hostile to newer, more effective methods, even attempting to sabotage progress in this area. This person not only “doesn’t get it,” they don’t want to “get it.” Rather than offer healthy debate when faced with a newer way of doing things (healthy debate is vital to making certain a new method has “checks & balances”), this person has no interest in discussing it at all. Like dead weight, they drag progress to a crawl, having nothing but negative, discouraging things to say. Always talking about the “good ol’ days”, he/she chooses to forget that not everything about the good ol’ days was good. This person needs to be taught that “newer is not always a threat to older, but an improvement upon said older methods.” As a friend of mine joked once, “The pony express used to deliver the mail.” 🙂 Glad we’ve seen progress in mail delivery.
  3. The Do-It-All – This personality basically comes down to pride, arrogance and a zero understanding of teamwork. This person is the consummate “Lone Ranger.” Worse, they not only don’t need “Tonto’s” help, they don’t want Tonto’s help. “I can do it all myself. And, for that matter, I can do it better than anyone else,” they convince themselves. This person (1) stunts the growth of those with whom they work because they’re stepping all over them, attempting to do their job, and (2) because they’re trying to do everything, absolutely nothing gets done well. Ironically, while this person wants to “help” everyone else with their job, they want no help with theirs. This person needs to be taught to “stay in their own lane” and to focus on doing their own job well. Additionally, it would help for someone to introduce them to the word “synergy”, the principle that states: together, we can accomplish far more than on our own.
  4. The Ivory Tower – I see this a lot in pastoral ministry and it never ceases to make me shake my head. “I”m not a people person,” they say. In fact, they almost come across as bragging about it. This begs the question: in what universe would a church search team call a person to be a pastor in their church who isn’t a “people person?” (Aren’t you glad Jesus was a people person?)  While some personalities are clearly introverted, and all of us require private time for various aspects of our job, this person has no interest in “being among the people.” Most tragic is that he/she robs themselves of the wealth of blessings received from relationships with coworkers.  If serving in a supervisory role, this person is rarely – if ever – seen “among the troops.” This person, if a supervisor, is a leader in title only. Anyone with half a leadership brain knows that if your employees are valued, coached, led by example and set up for success they’ll work harder and more passionately. Sadly, this person comes across as not only uncaring, but downright lazy. Engaging with people, getting to know them, learning how to work effectively together is hard work. This person needs to be taught that “leader” is a verb, not a title.

 

Here are the two I would add to the list:

  1. The Martyr – I had a pastor friend who had been in ministry for quite a while. He met himself coming and going, never able to catch their breath and, as a result, never really getting anything done well in their ministry.  I could see they were dying a slow death so I offered them some unsolicited advice, “As you mature and age, you’ve got to learn to work smarter, not harder.” In other words, take careful inventory of those around you who are gifted in areas you’re not. These people are just waiting to be asked to serve. Basically, I was ignored. This type of person would rather play the “martyr card”, desperately vying for attention and sympathy “due to how hard they work”, than learn how to delegate tasks to gifted, capable people. He/she perpetually complains about not having enough time or help to get everything done, trying with all their might to appear as the hardest-working – and most unappreciated – person in the office. But when offered help, the result is always the same: they simply reject it. If they received help, they would not receive the “payoff” they crave: having everyone feel sorry for them. Of course, over time, no one feels sorry for them. This person needs to be taught that they are actually moving backward in work and life by not being willing to swallow their pride and allow others to help them succeed.
  2. Narcissist/Sociopaththis person is, by far, the most dangerously toxic. A person can be a narcissist without being a sociopath. But a sociopath will always be narcissistic. This person has a grandiose, inflated view of themselves, becoming quickly defensive if questioned. At the deepest level of the narcissist is an acute insecurity starving for their “payoff”: obsequious adulation & admiration, confirming to them what they tell themselves everyday:  they are superior to anyone else on the planet. I commented on a FB post recently on this topic.  I wrote:  There’s a fine line between a narcissist and a sociopath. That said, both can be equally charming, winning over an immediate following of the unsuspecting.  But, the moment you see through their facade and question their motives you become Public Enemy No. 1 as they frantically scramble to prevent you from exposing their true self to others. They are adept at deception and diversion, having no ethical problem with denying statements they’ve openly made to others. (There is a line from the 1996 movie, The Preacher’s Wife, where a comment is made about a narcissistic character in the movie:  “That man’s so oily you can fry chicken on him.” Such is the narcissist.) Should the narcissist suspect you see through their carefully crafted facade, they will methodically attempt to assassinate your character in order to minimize your credibility, getting even your trusted friends to side with them and question your integrity. While a narcissist may potentially realize down deep they are a pathological liar, a sociopath actually believes their own lies. Both personalities are delusional. Further, it’s never the narcissist’s fault. As master manipulators, they are often able to convince you you’re the “crazy one,” that you’re the problem, and the one who needs to be fired (if they are the supervisor) or reprimanded (if they are a coworker).  This diabolical talent of theirs often successfully deflects all attention away from their deceit onto the person who is threatening to expose them as the liar and manipulator they truly are.

 

Nick

Stop Trying to be Good Enough

freedom

Good works are not required for salvation. Rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

Whether it’s being faithful to our spouse, honest in our business/academic dealings, keeping our thought-life pure, being patient behind a slow-as-Christmas driver, or even attending church…

These “good works,” albeit moral, don’t “get us into heaven.” Further, by God’s standards, there’s no one on planet earth who is “good.” (cf. Romans 3:10-12)

The “older brother” in Jesus’ story of the two sons in Luke 15:11-31 did everything “right” i.e. checked off all his “good works” boxes – and he still was just as lost as his prodigal bother had been.

The Bible is crystal clear: placing our faith in the death of Christ on the cross and in his resurrection “gets us into heaven.”  Paul wrote,

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9

If even the tiniest “good work” saved us, Christ died for nothing. But, not only did his death mean something, it meant everything. This is what Jesus meant when, from the cross, he cried, “It is finished.”

Paul wrote,

“It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1)

Free from what? Free from tirelessly trying to “check off a list of ‘good works’”, thinking our human effort will make us good enough for God to love us.

Stop trying to be “good enough” for God to love you. This is known as legalism And it is a crippling form of spiritual bondage.

In the words of author, Philip Yancey,

“There’s nothing you can do to make God love you more, and nothing you can do to make God love you any less.

God’s love for us is fixed, inexorably, because of Christ’s excruciating death and resurrection.

Again, “good works” are not required for salvation. But rather, they are evidence of our salvation.

This is precisely why Jesus said, “If you love me, you’ll do what I’ve told you to do.” (Jn. 14:15) It all begins with our love for, and devotion to, him.

Anyone can fake their love for someone by going through the motions of kindness and goodness using calculated pretense and deception.

We can fool some people some of the time.

But we can never fool God.

Place your faith in the risen Christ. Be free.

The “good works” will supernaturally follow. )

Love to you all, Nick

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Malachi (My response to the Prosperity Gospel)

No one likes to hear a sermon on giving.

But this sermon will be different than what you might be expecting.

When Malachi steps onto the scene a lot has happened over the last few centures:  Israel has, due to widespread spiritual rebellion, exhausted God’s patience, suffered punishment in way of being conquered by neighboring nations, taken into decades-long exile, and finally been released to return to their homeland in and around Jerusalem.

In the book of Malachi, a century has passed since they were allowed to return home.  Unbelievably, they were given permission to rebuild their destroyed temple.  They started out in a blaze of glory.  But, discouragement became complacency which became apathy which led down the proverbial rabbit hole of “Devotion to God is a complete waste of time.  From now on, I’m looking our for No. 1.”  As one scholar observed, their sin and rebellion against God was worse now than it ever was before they were taken into exile.

People seem to never learn.

Malachi’s job was, like all ancient prophets, an unpopular one.  He was to call Israel to account, pointing out how arrogant and self-absorbed they’d become.  They had become quite okay with telling God, in essence, to shove off – you’re just in the way.  (This would be the same God who had, throughout history, saved them over and over again from their own idiocy, as well as from enemy nations.)

As God, through Malachi, began listing all the ways Israel had abandoned their devotion to him, all they could do was, like spoiled children, smart off back to the prophet.

The book of Malachi is a fitting ending, actually, to the age of the prophets.  Following Malachi would be 400 years of seeming silence from God.  The next prophet would be John the Baptist, the one who would prepare the way for the true king, Jesus Christ.

One of the indictments handed down to Israel was that they had been “robbing God” by withholding their best while offering to him their leftovers (“Maybe God won’t notice?”) The issue was not about “amount”, but rather “attitude.”

In the only time in scripture where God gives us permission to put him to the test, he says,

“Should people cheat [rob] God? Yet you have cheated [robbed] me! “But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease. Your grapes will not fall from the vine before they are ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. (3:8-11)

Now, here’s the sermon you might not have been expecting.

There is a not-so-subtle heresy today commonly termed the Prosperity Gospel.  It’s tenet can be summed up in the words of one of its modern champions:

In short:  God’s will for your life?  Wealth & health.

I have no interest in critiquing the man who is Joel Osteen, or others like him, in this blog – only their interpretation of scripture on what God says about giving.  The Prosperity Gospel Preachers understanding of basic biblical teaching on this particular doctrine is embarrassingly incomplete.  It would behoove them and to preach the “whole counsel/will of God” and include the other side of this doctrine.

If the passage from Malachi (printed above) were the only passage God chose to give us regarding giving, Osteen and the like would be spot-on.  But it’s not.  The preachers of the Prosperity Gospel don’t insinuate – they boldly proclaim the following axiom:

Are you healthy, successful and financially prosperous?  You’re giving God your best.  Are you languishing in financial bondage?  Barely living paycheck to paycheck?  Something’s wrong and you are not giving God your best.

But, as with any half-truth being preached from a pulpit, anyone with a halfway intelligent understanding of the Bible immediately begins thinking in response: “This sounds sorta right, but not all right.  Something’s wrong with this picture.”

Clearly, according to the Prosperity Gospel – the apostles, the early church fathers, persecuted Christians both ancient & modern (Sri Lanka) have done something wrong.  For, if God wants us to prosper in health and wealth – and God never changes – then logic dictates that the followers of Christ, both ancient and modern, should enjoy happiness, health and affluence.  But, nothing could be further from the truth:

Once again, Prosperity Preachers trumpet, “God’s will for you is happiness, health and financial prosperity!” So, how does that jive with actual scripture?  Glad you asked 🙂

Job 1:8, 12 – The Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant, Job?… everything he has is in your power.”

Isaiah 53:10 – “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush [Christ] and cause him to suffer.”

John 9:1-3 – As [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

2 Corinthians 12:7-9 – …in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

According the Prosperity Gospel, here are the implications of these passages:

  • Job, whom God had just described, in vs 8, as the “most righteous man on earth” had apparently not given God his best.  Why else would God give Satan, himself, permission to destroy Job’s life?
  • Jesus, the subject of Isaiah’s prophecy, would suffer greatly as a result of God’s perfect will.  Clearly, for God to make his own son suffer so greatly, Jesus must not have given God is best, right?
  • The ancient misunderstanding was, “If a person was born blind or lame or deaf, etc., there must be great sin somewhere in his family.”  Sound familiar?  But, Jesus explained to the biblically myopic disciples that the man’s blindness had been given him by God to bring glory to God.   I keep trying to find the verse in this passage where Jesus says, “The man had not been giving his best and was cursed with blindness.”  Alas, it’s not there.
  • Finally, Paul, writer of a full third of the New Testament was, like Job, tormented by Satan, himself.  And, to make matters worse, when Paul begged God to remove his “thorn in the flesh”God said no. (No one knows what pain this was in Paul’s life but it was debilitating enough for Paul to beg God to remove it.)  According to the Prosperity Gospel, Paul had not given his best.

And we haven’t even mentioned the pain and persecution threaded throughout the rest of both the Old and New Testaments.

Bottom line:

  • Make no mistake: God’s words through Malachi are certainly true, as are Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38.  Giving God our best (whether its money, our time, our resources, etc.) will always, in return, receive a blessing. But, as you well know, the way God blesses is often different from how he thought he would bless us. (I asked God to make me a more patient driver, so he put me behind slow drivers 🙂  I asked God to help me be more compassionate to the hurting, so he hurt me deeply.) God’s blessing for us may well be new wisdom and discernment regarding the managing and stewardship of all with which God has entrusted us. (I always tell musicians/artists that their talent is merely on loan from the Lord.) It may be his peace that passes human understanding to help us get through a difficult time.  Or, it may actually be material blessing.  Regardless of how God blesses, it will be provide all that we need.
  • Almost always, a financial windfall is not in the cards. This doesn’t mean that’s never part of the Lord’s will.  But not usually. Think: the manna/bread provided for ancient Israel after the Exodus.  Israel was never in want of what they needed.  But God gave only enough for what they needed for the present time.  In the most familiar psalm, David wrote, “I lack nothing.” God’s definition of “prosperity” for some may be living paycheck to paycheck, giving us opportunity to trust him in tenuous times. (“Consider it pure joy when you encounter various trials…”)
  • And, finally, you may give your very best – and still return home to a busted water heater, or have your car’s alternator go out the following week.  Does that mean you are somehow amiss in your giving?  Not according to God, who is Yaweh Jireh –  יְהֹוָה יִרְאֵה  – our Provider.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Good Friday – 20 Centuries Ago…

jesus-crucifixion

On Good Friday, while we go through our daily routines, use your imagination and travel back with me twenty centuries to the dusty roads of southern Palestine.

The son is appearing over the horizon. By this time, the rooster has crowed, alerting Simon Peter to the fact that, just as Jesus predicted, he would deny Jesus not once, but three times during the previous night. The other disciples have scattered in fear.

Jesus has spent the entire night facing an illegal, hostile, kangaroo court designed to railroad him into a verdict of execution.

The Jewish leaders have demanded an audience with Pontius Pilate, who, normally in Caesarea, is in Jerusalem because of the crowds associated with Passover. Pilate tolerates the Jewish leaders, hearing them out. But, seeing through their false accusations, Pilate agrees not (yet) to have Jesus executed, but to have him flogged. (death may be less cruel)

Jesus is about to have his back shredded and ripped from his body, producing voluminous blood-loss and hypovolemic shock. This was the type of torture from which prisoners often died. The Roman writer, Cicero, described it as “the cruelest and most hideous punishment possible.”

But, the crowds aren’t satisfied with the flogging.  They want death!  “Crucify him!”, they shout repeatedly.  So the verdict is handed down….the death penalty. For only Rome has the authority to execute a death sentence. And their favorite form of execution? Crucifixion.

Crucifixions are “events” intended to send a message of terror to the onlooking crowds: “Thinking about rebelling again Rome? Behold! This is your fate should you follow through.”

But, this is Good Friday, right? Given Jesus’ condition, how could anyone ever describe it as “good?”

Because, without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection.

I saw a sign once sitting outside a coffee shop on the Friday prior to Easter.  It read:

“Come on in – where every Friday is Good – and no one has to die.”

That’s a nice sentiment, I guess.  But it completely contradicts what God says:

“For all have sinned…. [and] the wages of sin is death.”

Translation:  The verdict is in.  We’re all guilty of sin.  Every last one of us.  And God’s payment to us – the wages we have earned for our sin – is death.  An eternal death sentence.

Today, consider Him who died, so that we wouldn’t have to.

This is the Gospel.

To put it in the words of contemporary culture:

karma

From John MacArthur’s brilliant “God With Us”:

“Think for a moment about how Jesus died. It was not an easy, gentle passing from this world. It was excruciating agony and torture of the worst kind, for it was on a cross. He suffered in His death. He drank the bitter cup at Calvary in its fullness – He drained it to the last drop. He experienced all the pain, all the loneliness, all the torments that have ever been associated with death…..The death He tasted was the penalty of our sin.

The prophet Isaiah, seven centuries before Christ was born, put it this way:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain,… Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,… He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (53:3-5; emphasis mine)

MacArthur adds,

Jesus Christ received the full force of all that the devil could throw at Him. More than that (far more), He received the full expression of God’s wrath over sin.”

Contrary to the sign outside the coffee shop, according to God – someone did have to die.

So Christ did. For us. Willingly.

Why? Because of his relentless love for us all.

It’s Friday,…but Sunday’s Comin’, Nick

 

The Resurrection’s Impact on a Brilliant (now former) Atheist

Below is an article penned by Oxford professor, Alister McGrath.  McGrath is a brilliant intellectual, holding a doctorate in theology as well as a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics. (Ever heard the myopic lie about the Christian faith being solely for the intellectually weak? It’s actually the intellectually weak who perpetuate this mockery.)

The article was published years ago in Christianity Today Magazine.  For convenience, I have printed the article in its entirety for you here.  Enjoy, nw

The Resurrection: A Bridge Between Two Worlds

How the Resurrection infused my rational faith with a passionate hope.
Alister McGrath

 

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A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.” What would have happened to me, I often wonder, if I had read those words of C. S. Lewis when I was 18 years old and been alerted to the danger of reading? At the time, I was a grumpy and frankly rather arrogant atheist. I was totally convinced that there was no God, and that anyone who thought there was needed to be locked up for her own good. I was majoring in the sciences at high school and had won a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford University, beginning in October 1971. I had every reason to believe that studying the sciences further would confirm my rampant godlessness. While waiting to go up to Oxford, I decided to work my way through a pile of “improving books.” Needless to say, none of them were religious.

Eventually, I came to a classic work of philosophy—Plato’s Republic. I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows—and is meant to know—that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery.

As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end of the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it?

Had I read Lewis at that stage, I would have known that he once shared my dilemma as the imaginative deficiency of his youthful atheism began to dawn on him: “On the one side, a many-islanded sea of poetry and myth; on the other, a glib and shallow rationalism.” Yet even without Lewis, a seed of doubt had been planted within my dogmatic mindset. I could not have known this, but within a year, such doubts would overwhelm me and lead me to rediscover Christianity.

My own conversion was intellectual. I didn’t need a quick spiritual fix. Instead, I encountered a compelling and luminous vision of reality so powerful and attractive that it demanded a response. Christianity made more sense of the world I saw around me and experienced within me than anything else—my earlier atheism included. I discovered the sheer intellectual capaciousness of the Christian faith—its remarkable, God-given ability to offer us a lens through which we can see things, bringing everything into a sharper focus. It’s a light that illuminates the shadowlands. That’s why I’ve come to love Lewis’s great one-liner: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not just because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Although my journey of faith started with reason, it did not end there. The novelist Evelyn Waugh once wrote of the “delicious process of exploring” that he experienced upon converting to Christianity in 1930. I know just what he meant. Everything is new and exciting. It’s all too much to take in at once. You have to keep coming back, going deeper each time around. That’s what I found with the Resurrection.

Eminently Reasonable

My first reflections on the resurrection of Christ were exactly what you’d expect from a recovering hyper-rationalist. My questions were all about historical factuality. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? What was the evidence for it? At that stage, my concern was really to reassure myself of the trustworthiness of the New Testament. If the Resurrection didn’t happen, then the New Testament could not be trusted. If it did, the New Testament was to be trusted. Although I emerged from this period of questioning with my faith intact, I could not help feeling there was rather more to the resurrection of Christ than the validation of the authority of Scripture.

I now began to reflect on how the Resurrection helped me make sense of the identity of Christ. I cut my theological teeth on works like German theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg’s Jesus: God and Man, which offered a complex and intriguing defense of the Resurrection as a public event and argued its importance for understanding the true significance of Jesus Christ.

My own conversion was intellectual. I didn’t need a quick spiritual fix. Instead, I encountered a compelling and luminous vision of reality so powerful and attractive that it demanded a response.

My early concern was to get straight what Christians believed, and why they believed it. How does the Resurrection fit into the web of Christian beliefs? How does it fit into the overall scheme of the Christian faith? After several years of wrestling with these issues, I came down firmly on the side of Christian orthodoxy. I became, and remain, a dedicated and convinced defender of traditional Christian theology. Having persuaded myself of its merits, I was more than happy to try to persuade others as well. My early books had titles such as Understanding Jesus and Understanding the Trinity.

Today, I remain convinced that Christianity gives the best “big picture” of reality, one which makes sense of science, history, culture, and personal experience. This is one of its greatest strengths, and it helped me come to faith. Yet I came to realize that it has more strengths than I had initially appreciated. I was like someone holding a diamond up to the light, and realizing it had many facets—each scintillating brilliantly in the light—and rejoicing as I came to appreciate their individual beauty and relevance.

A deeper appreciation of the significance of the Resurrection slowly began to dawn. I had always understood that the significance of the Resurrection went beyond deepening our understandings of the identity of Christ and our own situation. Yet I found it difficult to express this in words, and could not quite grasp its traction on the deeper things of life.

Deeper Dimensions

My appreciation of the deeper dimensions of the gospel grew considerably as I worked as a curate—the Church of England’s term for an assistant pastor—in a parish in England’s East Midlands in the early 1980s, ministering to those who were suffering, dying, and bereaved. Ordinary people, often in the final stages of their life, explained to me how their faith in the Resurrection transformed their lives and brought new hope to their sufferings and losses. As I listened to them, I realized that they were ministering to me as much as I to them.

Those good faithful Christian people taught me that the Resurrection enabled believers to do more than think. It helped them to cope with the sorrows, ambiguity, and pain of life. They hadn’t read Pannenberg. But they had immersed themselves in the New Testament and absorbed its fundamental message of hope. They knew that, even though they walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God was with them. So they kept walking through the wilderness of this world, knowing God was by their side. They knew that Christ’s resurrection was the firm foundation for their hope that all who trusted in him would finally rise with him and be with him in the New Jerusalem. So they faced suffering with dignity and serenity, knowing that those who suffer with Christ will be glorified with him.

To put it simply: Ordinary Christian believers helped me realize that the Resurrection changes not just the way we think but also the way we live. Things that I had understood in a rather dry and detached way now became living realities. What I had once studied, I now inhabited. What I had once understood, I now embraced. My time in a parish helped me to realize that the gospel impacted every aspect of our existence—our reasoning, emotions, imaginations, and values. Looking back on those days, I can now see that they liberated me from an impoverished view of the Christian faith. There’s nothing wrong with a faith that shapes the way we think—as long as we allow it to do its work of transforming every aspect of our lives. The healing balm of the gospel needs to salve the wounds of every faculty that we possess, so that they can all be transformed, enriched, and empowered through the grace of God.

Now many readers will feel—not without good reason—that this is all rather obvious. It is to me now. But it wasn’t when I began my pilgrimage of faith over 40 years ago. It was something I had to discover, and learn the hard way. To use a phrase from Lewis, my imagination was baptized as I realized how much more there was to discover about the gospel.

And so I returned to the Resurrection. I was already reassured of its historical truth. I had figured out its enormous implications for a right understanding of the identity of Jesus of Nazareth. But now I was ready for more—to engage with the Resurrection at a level and with an enthusiasm I had not known before. So what did I encounter?

Space permits only one reflection: It brought a new dimension to my understanding of worship. The resurrection of Christ creates a bridge between two worlds—the everyday world in which we exist and a better and brighter world of the Christian hope. Sharing in Christ’s resurrection means sharing in the hope that we shall one day inhabit the New Jerusalem, and anticipating being part of its worship and adoration. Though our entry into the courtyards of heaven lies in the future, we can anticipate it now. Worship on earth is a foretaste of the worship of heaven.

The Fragrance of Heaven

I came across an illustration years ago that helped me visualize this. In his 1888 work The Atmosphere, the French astronomer Camille Flammarion (1842-1925) reproduced an illustration that he declared to be a medieval woodcut. (This is now thought to be Flammarion’s own invention, by the way.) It shows a man on the threshold of the everyday world, peering beyond it into a deeper and more complex reality.

Ordinary Christian believers helped me realize that the Resurrection changes not just the way we think but also the way we live.

That’s how I see the Resurrection. By his death and resurrection, Christ has built a bridge and opened a door to the New Jerusalem. Not only do we, as citizens of heaven, have a God-given and Christbased right of entry and abode there; we can anticipate our arrival in its courtyards, allowing the worship of heaven to inspire and excite us right now. The fragrance of heaven wafts into the everyday world. By God’s grace, those things we enjoy and love now become signs and pledges of something greater to come. Jonathan Edwards put this rather well in his great sermon of September 1733, “The Christian Pilgrim”:

To go to heaven fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, children, or the company of earthly friends, are but shadows. But the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams, but God is the sun. These are but streams, but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.

The resurrection of Christ is the guarantor that these hopes of heaven are not the pathetic delusions of wistful human hearts. No. These are realities that are secured, disclosed, and illuminated through the gospel declaration of the resurrection of Christ as the firstfruits, with believers to follow in God’s own good time. No wonder the New Testament exults in the Resurrection hope!

When Paul speaks of the “unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8, NIV 1984), he is not forbidding us to explore but rather encouraging us to do so, in the knowledge that there will always be more to discover about Christ, the focus and center of our faith. Paul is right: Knowing Christ is better than anything the world can offer, even though that knowledge is limited by our finitude and sin. But one day, we shall know Christ as he really is, and be with him in his kingdom. Christ’s incarnation evokes our wonder that God once came to us; his resurrection consolidates our hope that one day we shall return home, rejoicing, to that same God.

Alister McGrath is professor of theology at King’s College London, and president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics.

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Zephaniah

Humility these days is in short supply.

I’m certainly no model of humility.

Zephaniah preached to, and admonished, a complacent people who had grown repulsively stagnant in their devotion to the very God who had, over and over again, blessed them materially and rescued them from their enemies.

Making things worse, Israel had lost their healthy fear and reverence of God, no longer worrying about him ever punishing them for their sin or, for that matter, interfering with their comfortable lives at all.  Through Zephaniah, God mocks their blatant arrogance:

“They think the Lord will do nothing to them, either good or bad.”

God knew Israel needed a heavy dose of humility, which is why he instructed Zephaniah to say to them:

“Seek the Lord, all who are humble, and follow his commands. Seek to do what is right and to live humbly.”

I’m fairly certain Zephaniah was thinking to himself, “What part of ‘be humble’ do you people not understand?”

As I thought about the pervasive arrogance and entitlement so evident in our North American culture, I was quickly reminded of how much value God places on humility.  Consider the following few examples from scripture:

2 Chronicles 7:14 – if my people who are called by my name humble themselves,…

2 Samuel 22:28 – You save a humble people, but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them down. (cf. Psalm 18:27)

James 4:6 – Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”  (cf. Proverbs 3:34)

James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.

It was C.S. Lewis who once quipped,

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.”

Need a solid example of humility?

Look no further than Christ, who offered the ultimate form of humility…

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick