Articles from April 2019

God Raised Him Up

There is no greater nor important celebration in the Church than the resurrection of our Savior Jesus Christ. Without the resurrection there is no Christianity. One of the most common questions asked is, “Who actually raised Jesus from the dead?” Scripture is clear that Jesus was raised not only by God the Father (Rom 6:4), but He also raised Himself from the dead (Jn 2:19, 10:18).

Impossible for Death to Hold Him
Peter said in his first sermon that “it was not possible for Jesus to be held by death” (Acts 2:24). It was impossible for Jesus to remain in the grave for three reasons. First, Jesus had the divine power of God to defeat death. Death was powerless to hold Him in the grave because Jesus truly was the “resurrection and the life” (Jn 11:25). Second, death could not hold Jesus because of the divine promise. Jesus promised the religious leaders, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (Jn 2:18-22). Third, death could not hold him because of the divine purpose of God. It was the Father’s purpose that His Holy One not undergo decay! (MacArthur, Acts 1-12, pg 65)

Prophesied in the Old Testament
Over and over the Apostles validated their claim of the resurrection by quoting the prophecy made 1000 years earlier by King David in the Psalms. David, being a prophet, wrote in Psalm 16:8-11 very specific messianic prophesies concerning the resurrection of Jesus. Peter actually quotes this passage in his first sermon on the Day of Pentecost giving proof that the resurrection of the Messiah should have been expected. “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption” (Acts 2:27). Peter makes it clear that this was not David speaking about himself, because David was actually buried in a grave and he was still there. But Jesus was raised up by God just as David prophesied.

Over 500 Witnesses
Furthermore, Jesus had appeared to all the Apostles and over 500 people in a period of 40 days (1 Cor 15:3-8). Being a witness of the resurrection was actually a requirement for being an Apostle (Acts 1:22). Jesus confirmed his defeat over death with His inner circle of disciples so that they could spread the good news to every corner of the earth.

Apostolic Witness
And the good news did spread. When the Holy Spirit was poured out on the small band of Jesus’ followers, they changed from being cowards to being bold in preaching. Peter stood up and preached in Jerusalem specifically about the resurrection of Christ. And the Church was birthed that day on the Day of Pentecost out of the Apostolic witness that “God raised Him up” (Acts 2:24, 32). Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told the Apostles that they were going to be “witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (1:8). They were going to be witnesses of his resurrection to the whole world. And in fact, when you study the book of Acts you see this very thing! The one thing that mattered most to the Apostles was that indeed God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter told Jerusalem about God raising Jesus from the dead (2:24,32, 3:14-15, 26, 4:10, 33, 5:30). Peter preached to Caesarea namely that “God raised Him up on the third day” (10:39-40). Paul preached to both the Jews (13:29-30, 33, 34, 37) and the Gentiles (17:3, 18, 31) compelling them with the resurrection of Jesus. And Paul specifically preached to the Roman governing officials that Jesus had been raised from the dead (23:11, 24:21, 26:23).

Does it matter?
It truly does matter that God raised up Jesus! The resurrection of Christ proves that Jesus truly was the Messiah for which all of history was waiting. It proves that death had been defeated. It proves that God accepted Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. It proves that Christianity is the one true religion and that Jesus alone is able to save us from our sin.

Our Response
The Apostle Peter called all of his listeners that day in his first sermon to “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). First our response should be inward. Inwardly we must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge that we are sinners in need of saving! We must acknowledge that Jesus alone is the Messiah, the one who came to die for our sins (1 Peter 2:24). Second, our response should be outward. Peter called all of the first century Jews to publicly identify with Jesus in baptism. We do not believe that baptism saves anyone. But it is important to publicly identify with Christ. Baptism is important for this very reason. It would have been very difficult for the first century Jews to abandon their former religion of Judaism and be publicly identified with Christ. And yet this is exactly what Peter called them to do.

God’s Promise
When we respond in this way, God promises to do two incredible things (Acts 2:38-39). First, He promises to forgive all of our sins. There is no sin too great for God to forgive. All of our sins can be forgiven by the blood of Jesus. The second promise for those who have responded appropriately is that they will receive the Holy Spirit, who will permanently indwell every true believer and thus they will be sealed forever as Children of God (Eph 1:11).

Our Witness
Just as the Apostles gave witness to the resurrection of Christ, so we are also commanded to go into all the world and tell others about the resurrected Christ. If we have been called, and forgiven and have received the Holy Spirit, we also have a mission just like the Apostles. We have not personally seen the resurrected Christ, but we have the word of the Apostles and Scripture which gives us authority to speak. Just as Jesus sent the Apostles, so He sends us into the world to tell the good news that “God raised Him Up!”

 

 

Is the Resurrection Fake News?

Our world is full of “fake news” or at least extremely “biased news” in both liberal and conservative camps. News reporters are always tempted to twist the facts in order to bolster their position and try to win a broad number of people to their side. Due to this widespread practice, many have become skeptics of any and all news. Sources are questioned and doubted as reliable.

It is no surprise that many have doubted the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is difficult enough to believe basic news, let alone supernatural events. For centuries skeptics considered the resurrection of Jesus a fictitious story that His followers fabricated. If this were true, it would be the death blow to Christianity. Even atheists agree that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the central issue to Christianity. Without the resurrection of Christ, there is no Christianity.

The best way to determine whether an event is truly historical is to simply look at the evidence available and allow it to provide the best explanation for the events surrounding it. There are many evidences that point to the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus but following are three major proofs: the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances, and the explosion of the Church.

The Empty Tomb
It is interesting that the first witnesses of the empty tomb were women (Luke 24:1-12). In the Greco-Roman culture it should be noted that women were not particularly held in high esteem. In fact, a woman’s testimony wasn’t admissible in a trial and was only admissible in a Jewish court if two female witnesses were accessible. If the story of the resurrection was fabricated, the first eye witnesses would not have been women unless it were true.

When the disciples began preaching for the first time, they did so just a few days after the resurrection in the same city where Jesus died and was buried. It would have been foolish for them to preach about the resurrection if the claim could have been simply overturned by going to the tomb to find a body. Even the Jews hostile toward Christianity agreed that the tomb was empty, but fabricated the story that the disciples “stole the body” (Matt 28:11-15). To agree that the tomb was empty was not in their favor. And yet the enemies of Christ agreed that the body was gone.

The argument that the body of Jesus was stolen is easily refuted. The Jews or Romans had no motive to steal the body of Jesus. They both wanted to suppress Christianity not encourage it with an empty tomb. Furthermore, the disciples had no motive to steal the body. Preaching on the resurrection of Jesus only brought severe persecution, beatings, and even death. Why would they all endure severe persecution and even death for a lie? It is difficult to deny an empty tomb on historical grounds.

Resurrection Appearances
The second strand of mounting evidence is the resurrection appearances that Jesus made. According to scripture, the disciples had real experiences with the one whom they believed to be the resurrected Christ (John 20:19-29). The Apostle Paul records that both Peter and James along with over 500 others actually saw Christ alive (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Paul records a kind of creed that became popular, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time…”

Doubters will often say that the disciples were lying, or that they hallucinated, but these are really absurd arguments. Ten out of the twelve disciples actually died a martyr’s death for what they claimed. It is difficult to believe that they would have died for such a lie. Furthermore, hallucination is not an option because of the nature of the appearances. The disciples were able to touch the body of Jesus and eat with him. It might be feasible to say that one individual hallucinated, but it is difficult to believe that all twelve men actually were “seeing things” that were not real.

The Exploding Church
The third strand of evidence is the existence of the Christian Church. If the resurrection were a lie, the church would have died long ago. But it still remains the largest institution of any kind in human history. The church exploded immediately following the preaching of the disciples and continues to grow even today.

Does the resurrection of Jesus really matter?
Well indeed the resurrection of Christ does matter because every tenant of Christianity hinges on the resurrection. If the resurrection is not true, Christianity is a sham and an embarrassment. But since the resurrection is true, then the following are also true.

Jesus can be trusted
First, if the resurrection did not happen then Jesus is a liar. Jesus predicted his own resurrection several times in Scripture (Mark 8:31, Luke 9:22, Matthew 17:22). It is very difficult to trust a liar. If Jesus stayed in the tomb, it would be senseless to believe that He was truly divine as He claimed (John 8:58). The resurrection proves that Jesus is who He said He was, that His words are true, and that He can be trusted.

Our sins are forgiven
Second, if there is no resurrection then there is no forgiveness of sins. The Apostle Paul clearly states, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Corinthians 15:17). The death of Christ on the cross was a penal substitution for those who would believe in Him. The resurrection proves that God the Father was pleased with the sacrifice that Jesus made on behalf of sinners. Had Jesus not been raised, then there could be no “justification” for sinners (Rom 4:25), faith in Christ would be vanity and every person would perish.

All other religions are false
Third, the unique resurrection of Jesus is what makes Christianity an exclusive religion. Everyone is looking for the right pathway to the truth. Sadly, the world considers there to be many paths to God. But this makes no sense in light of the resurrection. Since Jesus rose from the dead, then the absolute claim of Jesus eliminates all other claims. Jesus is the only leader who rose from the dead. All other religious leaders are still in their tombs which makes the exclusive claim of Jesus all the more important. We must accept the statement of Jesus when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). The evidence is clear. Jesus determines what is true and what is not true.

Believers can have hope
Last, since the resurrection is true, followers of Jesus are guaranteed real hope of eternal life for their future. Christ’s resurrection proves that Christ has power over death, man’s worst enemy, and that those who put their trust in Him will also one day be resurrected not to judgment but to eternal life (Jn 6:39-40). Since Jesus raised himself from the dead (Jn 10:17-18), He has the power to raise whomever He wills! We no longer have to fear death and judgment, but can rest in the promise and resurrection of Jesus our Savior.

We must believe
The resurrection of Jesus is reasonable to believe, but it is also necessary to be a Christian. The Apostle Paul says that in order for sinners to be saved they must “confess with their mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:9). We must never doubt the resurrection of Christ.

 

Measure of Spiritual Maturity: Love!

Rarely have I ever heard anyone say that a person is a spiritual giant because of the way they love. I may be wrong, but I think most people consider theological knowledge as the measure of spiritual maturity. We highly esteem those who have a great deal of knowledge, especially theological knowledge.

But knowledge without love is a sure sign of the lack of spiritual maturity. The Apostle Paul clearly explains this in 1 Corinthians 13:1-2, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” Having the knowledge of the greatest mysteries of God and even a deep faith to move mountains is deemed nothing without love. Love then is a standard for how we measure our spiritual maturity.

Love for All, But Especially the Family of God
It is true that as believers we are called to love everyone, but our love should especially be toward our fellow brothers and sisters. Jesus actually said that the world would know that we are His disciples by the love that we show toward one another (Jn 13:35). We are to love the world and even our enemies (Matt 5:44), but our love for the family of God is vitally important.

There is a real emphasis in Scripture on “brotherly love.” This is actually a very common word in the Greek, philadelphia, from “philos” which means love or affection and “adelphos” meaning brother. The term originally meant affection for someone from the same womb, blood relatives. But it is used several times in the New Testament to describe the love that fellow Christians have for one another, especially since now they are a part of the same new family (Rom 12:10, 1 Thess 4:9, Heb 13:1, 1 Pet 1:22, 3:8, 2 Pet 1:7). As believers we have been born again into the family of God, so that we call each other brother and sister in the Lord.

It is also vitally important to realize that love for the family of God actually becomes a test of our real conversion. The Apostle John makes this clear in his first epistle. He says the real test of whether or not you have been born again and walk in the light is whether or not you love or hate your brother (1 Jn 2:9-11). The one who hates his brother is still in the darkness. Yet the one who loves his brother has passed out of death into life (1 Jn 3:14).

Is Love Natural or Supernatural?
The kind of love that the Bible talks about is not a natural love. The world naturally loves its own, and has an affection for pleasures, and pursuits. But having an “agape” love for others is not natural. It is not natural to love the way Jesus intends his followers to love. This love actually comes from God. When a person is “born again,” the Holy Spirit comes and abides, or lives, inside of us. It is the Holy Spirit who then teaches us to love. Paul told the Thessalonians that he did not need to write to them about loving each other because they had been “taught by God” to love one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9). This phrase is actually one word in the Greek theodidaktoi literally meaning “God taught.” It is clear that it is the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit who teaches us as Romans 5:5 explains, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The Apostle John also confirms this when he says in 1 John 4:12, that God’s “love is perfected in us. But this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” This was the promise of God in Jeremiah 31:33, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” The Holy Spirit inevitably teaches every believer so that their new birth is confirmed by the love that they show to one another. It is inconceivable that a true believer would not show love on a consistent basis. Loving one another should be second nature to a believer.

Character of this Love
This divine love that is shed in our hearts is manifested in several ways. First, this love is a non-selective love. When we become Christians, our love for fellow brothers or sisters overcomes differences in race, theological positions, demographics and even political positions. Just as the Thessalonians’ love for all the brothers in Macedonia was evident (1 Thess 4:10), so our love will extend to all who are in Christ. The color of someone’s skin is no longer a barrier to love. Age has no bearing on our affection for others. And even theological & political differences should not prevent us from loving a fellow believer deeply.

Second, it is a caring love. Like the apostle Paul we will have a “great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thess 3:17). Paul said of the Thessalonian believers that they “always remember us kindly and long to see us (3:6). The Church is not a corporate business entity, but rather a family knit together by Christian love. Being involved in a church means that we are committed to one another and that we genuinely care about the lives of others (Rom 12:9).

Third, this love is a concerned love. While it is nice to talk about things of this world like sports and the news, the main concern of brothers and sisters in the Lord is always about faith in Christ. The most important aspect of love that a fellow Christian can have is a desire to “establish and exhort” a brother or sister in their faith” (1 Thess 3:2). Trials will inevitably come and family looks out for one another. We are always ready to help each other persevere in our faith and love for Christ and one another (3:6).

Last, this love is a working love. By this I mean that we are not passive but actively loving others. Particularly we honor and esteem our pastors. We live at peace with others. We admonish those in the church who are idle. We encourage those who are weak and fainthearted. We never repay evil with evil, but seek to do good to one another (1 Thess 5:12-15).

Excel Still More and More
This love that we have for one another should always be increasing. While we may be doing well, we can always do better. Paul commended the Thessalonians for their love for one another and yet prayed that the Lord would make them “increase and abound in love for one another and for all” (3:12) and he urged them to love “more and more” (4:10).

Our love can always grow for others. We must first love deeper in our minds. This requires being humble and considering others more important than ourselves (Phil 2:3-4, 1 Cor 13:1-2). Instead of judging people in our minds, we should give others the “benefit of the doubt” never assuming the worst about them but rather assuming the best. Second, we can be more generous with our money, helping those in our midst who are struggling financially. Being generous and helping our brother and sister is truly an act of love (1 Jn 3:17-18). Third we can give our time and be a servant to one another. This may mean being hospitable and opening our home and providing a meal. It may mean helping someone who has had surgery by mowing their yard. The possibilities are endless. Fourth, we can pray for one another. There is no greater act of love than to pray for our brothers and sisters. Fifth, we can simply be attentive to others around us by being warm and welcoming and hospitable.

Mature Families and a Mature Church
While we definitely don’t want to dismiss growing in theology and growing in the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18), we also want to be known as a loving church. We can and must improve and grow in our love for one another. The sign of our maturity is how well we love! We can and must love our family deeper. We can and must love our church family deeper. What can you do to love better in your church, in your home, at your work?

Click here to listen to a sermon on this topic from 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10.

 

Visiting Covenant Bible Fellowship Church, Naples Florida

This weekend I visited Jason & Anna Filbert who have been planting a Bible Fellowship Church (BFC) in Naples, Florida for the last 3 years. It all began in January 2016 as a Bible study as Jason began to investigate what the Lord desired for his life. In the providence of God, Jason’s dad, Ron Filbert remembered his long-ago friendship with Dave Gundrum, the current director of Church Extension for the BFC. Jason connected with Dave and now is a part of the BFC work of extending the Kingdom of God in Naples Florida.

Planting a church is exciting, but it is also very hard work. Progress is often slow and tedious. Hours are consumed by the church planter preparing messages, praying about locations, continually meeting new people, raising up leaders, raising money, encouraging those who have come to catch the vision, and so much more. The work in Naples is no different. In a city on the Gulf Coast of Florida with roughly 375,000 people, there is definitely a need for a new church. Covenant Bible Fellowship Church is making an impact spreading the “Good News” for the glory of God, and providing a solid Bible believing church with sound doctrine.

Covenant BFC is blessed to have a beautiful location in a strip mall. The space is about 1150 square feet and is able to accommodate about 50-60 chairs. It is a great location and is very visible on a major roadway. Since Jason has moved to this location about a year ago, he has seen a heightened interested and many newcomers. The church location is quickly becoming too small. Jason already has a lead on a new location that sounds promising.

 

 

Our Trip
This is the third trip I have made to Naples alongside Tim Zuck, church planter in Forks township. We go every year to provide encouragement, mentorship and fellowship with this young work and to assess the progress of the work so that we know how to assist and pray. This year we focused on a couple of tasks: physical labor, outreach, fellowship and coaching.

Physical Work: Tim Zuck and I were able to help Jason clean up a storage area and get rid of loose items that were simply being an annoyance. We were able to spend time moving important items into a storage unit, and clean up the space where the church meets weekly. Of course the whole time we were working we were talking and encouraging Jason in the ministry giving him helpful ideas for how to reach new people.

Outreach: On Saturday afternoon, several from the church gathered to canvas two parks. It was a beautiful day and many people were out playing. We were able to hand out approximately 200-300 leaflets inviting people to come visit Covenant BFC. Several conversations were very encouraging.

Fellowship: Being a small church plant, Jason is able to have gatherings where everyone comes together for fellowship. Sunday night approximately 25 people gathered together at Buca di Beppo, an Italian restaurant. For two hours the “little flock” had wonderful fellowship together.

Coaching: Tim Zuck & I were able to coach Jason on many different topics. We were able to discuss his preaching, logistics of the service, raising up new leaders, administration

and so much more. This is the most valuable part of our trip. Having never planted a church, Jason is grateful not only for our mentorship, but prayer and encouragement.

Sunday Worship
Covenant BFC meets at 10:00 every Sunday morning. Attendance has peaked up to 53 but is averaging around 35 each week. A year ago, Jason had only 15 people coming on a regular basis. To date, Jason has over 35 committed participants and over 60 people who are attending on an irregular basis.

Of course, the foundation of the ministry is the Bible. Jason is committed to expository preaching and is currently preaching through the book of Hebrews. He also teaches a Bible study on Thursday nights which is well attended. Jason preached an excellent message from Hebrews 3:7-19 exhorting the church not to have a hard heart toward the Gospel of Christ.

Jason has a couple of wonderful additions to his team. Tom Chmura is a retired pastor from Ohio who has committed to help Jason. He has been at Covenant just over a year. He brings many years of ministry experience to the table. Tom also serves by preaching for Jason periodically. Another wonderful addition to the team is Clay Bickford who came about a year ago. He is using his musical gifts to help lead worship at Covenant each week. Both of these men have made significant improvements to the team and to the Church.

Prayer Requests

  1. Please pray that continued growth would occur at Covenant BFC. In a sense, committed new people will solve many problems. There can be no church without people.
  2. Please pray that continued funds would be provided. Our Father in heaven has provided many financial blessings in the past, but more are needed. It takes a lot of money to plant a church. If you would like to donate to this cause let me know and I can direct you.
  3. Please pray for continued strength for Jason and his wife and all the volunteers that serve. It is exciting to plant a church, but it also can be overwhelming. It takes a whole lot of planning and energy. Discouragement arises at every turn. Please pray that the Lord will sustain Jason and that the people who are committed to the work will be encouraged to persevere.

If you would like to write an encouraging note to Jason and Anna here is their address:
Jason & Anna Filbert, 7345 Davis Blvd Suite # 3, Naples, Fl 34104.