Celebrate the Resurrected Judge!


god-judge-world.jpg.crop_displayOne of the most important bodies of leadership in the US (if not, the most important) is the Supreme Court. It’s not surprising that some of the ugliest political battles have centered on Supreme Court appointments. Simply mentions names like Robert Bork or Clarence Thomas to make the case.

Given the immense influence of the court, we should understand that one of our main concerns in choosing a president is what kind of judges the candidate would appoint.

The decisions of Judges profoundly alter the lives of individuals for better or worse and even affect millions of people — shaping the entire future of our nation.

Today, however, I invite you to remember that the most important court appointment has already been made. It is an appointment to the highest judiciary seat possible and it covers the entire human race. 

There will be no ugly political battles. No filibusters. No votes from politians. His appointment did not come with a news conference or a press release. God did something far greater.

God made the appointment of the Supreme Judge and confirmed his appointment by raising him from the dead. There is an interesting and repeated emphasis in the Bible connecting the Resurrection of Christ with his position and function as the final Judge of humanity.

“God has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (John 5:21-22).

“They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen — by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:39-42).

“Christ died and returned to life so that he   might be the Lord of both the dead and the   living. You, then, why do you judge your   brother or sister? … For we will all stand   before God’s judgment seat…. So then,   each of us will give an account of ourselves   to God” (Romans 14:9-12)

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out — those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. (John 5:25-29).

The trial and crucifixion of Jesus was the most profound perversions of justice known to humanity. Although repeatedly declared innocent by the Roman governor and others, they proceeded to mock, torture and crucified the innocent one. But by raising Christ from this illegal death sentence, God reversed the atrocity of injustice and appointed Christ as the final Judge of humanity. God gave proof to all people that Jesus is the appointed judge of humanity when He defeated injustice and death and raised Jesus to life.

“Wicked officials committed a terrible injustice in killing him, but God reversed that injustice by raising Jesus from the dead, showing him to be God’s Son and appointing him as judge over the entire world. Judge Jesus has endured horrible oppression and injustice, and he has overcome it by rising again. His resurrection encourages us never to give up on justice but to believe that the Lord will always have the final word. If you know that Jesus lives and that he is the appointed judge, you know that justice will triumph and that injustice will be overturned and punished.” 

“The victory achieved by Christ through his death and resurrection on that first Easter morning is the guarantee of God’s final triumph over evil. By his perfect life, his death for our sins and his resurrection, it is Christ who has won the right to be the final judge of the human race” (David Feddes).

Celebrate our risen Savior and final Judge!

Steve Cornell

See also: “The final judge of all people” (from Jonathan Edwards, 1703-1758).

Should we always use the Bible in witnessing for Christ?

Paul’s approach to outreach and ministry is a great model for followers of Christ. His normal pattern was to bring the gospel message first to the Jews using synagogues as his base.

“As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah” (Acts 17:2-3, NLT).

But the apostle also expanded his outreach to the market place or the public square.

“While Paul was waiting … in Athens, he … went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there” (Acts 17:16-17).

Consider Paul’s method of communication revealed through the terms used to describe it. He “reasoned with them .. explaining, proving and proclaiming ….” These are not words that describe passive engagement. Paul was clearly intense and passionate in communicating the gospel.

But take special not of how he “reasoned with them” (see: 17:2,17). This is a translation of the Greek word behind our English word “dialogue.”

“Dialogue implies a free and open exchange of ideas, perceptions, problems and options with a desire to arrive at an understanding of truth. Since it allows for people to really communicate where they are spiritually, socially, intellectually, emotionally, and behaviorally, we believe it encourages a more relevant kind of instruction” (John Stott, Romans). (See also: I Peter 3:15).

This was Paul’s method. He didn’t shout bible verses or form a team to march around Athens. He didn’t target territorial demons of Athens and cast them out. He simply found people who were open to discuss the truths of the gospel and presented Jesus to them.

Paul no doubt presented these truths passionately and persuasively. He was a master at dialogue and a strong apologetic evangelism in tune with his audience. He was a clearly man of action who was ready to enter the arena of conflict between truth and error.

The synagogue and market place today

Paul spoke to Jews on the Sabbath and went to the agora (the market place) where people did business and gathered for casual conversation and exchanging ideas (“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas” – Acts 17:21).

The apostle seized the opportunity to intelligently and persuasively present Jesus and the resurrection to all who would listen.

“Today the nearest equivalent to the synagogue is the church, the place where religious people gather. There is still an important place for sharing the gospel with church-goers, God-fearing people on the fringe of the church, who may attend services only occasionally. The equivalent of the agora will vary in different parts of the world. It may be a park, city square or street corner, a shopping mall or market-place, a ‘pub’, neighborhood bar, café, or student cafeteria, wherever people meet when they are at leisure. There is a need for gifted evangelists who can make friends and gossip the gospel in such informal settings as these” (John Stott).

It is significant to note how Paul “used the Scriptures to reason with the people” in the synagogue (Acts 17:2), but he did not quote a single Scripture in his message to the philosophers of Athens (see: Acts 17:22-34).

Paul’s opening text for the philosophers was actually “an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god” (Acts 17:23). He also quoted Greek poets, (“‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’” Acts 17:28). 

What should we take from this?

Paul’s message in Athens was clearly based in truth that could only be known by revelation from God. Look closely at his opening words, 

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:24-27). 

How could Paul speak so definitively about such great truths? Only based on revelation from God. All that Paul proclaimed to these philosophers was true and based on revelation from Scripture. But Paul did not use the Scripture explicitly as he did among the Jewish people in the synagogue (“he used the Scriptures” Acts 17:2).

This is important to recognize for our method today. When people are unfamiliar with the Bible, sometimes explicit use of it with phrases like, “The Bible says…” or “Scripture says…” or “In John 3:16, we read….” can become an obstacle to their willingness to hear the truth revealed in Scripture. We must be careful about “canned methods” of outreach that take a one-size-fits-all approach. We might also want to ask if we hold some kind of mystical belief in the use of quotation as a necessary means for God’s power and truth to be heard. 

There was nothing “watered down” in Paul’s message to the philosophers. He didn’t avoid things that might offend their belief system. “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject’” (Acts 17:32). Paul did not compromise God’s truth in bearing witness but he communicated it differently in different settings based on the context and worldview of the audience.

Does the truth he spoke to the philosophers bring the power of conviction in the same way as a quotation of Scripture? Evidently it does since we learn that, “Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others” (Acts 17:34).

My title for this post might be a bit misleading: “Should we always use the Bible in witnessing for Christ?” The answer is obvious. But, based on Paul’s method in Athens, we should also ask, “How we should use the Bible?” 

Is it possible that it requires an even greater knowledge of Scripture to effectively use the truth it reveals as Paul did in Athens? 

I think the diversity of models for outreach in Acts 17 deserves more thoughtful dialogue in the Church today.

Steve Cornell

Essential truths for ministry

The image of God in humanity should be the starting point for how we approach ministry to others. It is the shared reality of all people, in all places, at all times. This makes God himself the standard for ministry.

God singled out humans when He said,  “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” ”So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).

  • At the beginning, God “saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31).
  • Humans (by God’s original intent) had a very good and noble beginning (and we know it – intuitively).
  • As a result of the fall of humanity, those who were intended to be whole are broken, partial and fractured.
  • Human beings are now a combination of dignity and depravity. We find in each person a mix of good and bad – but even the good is tainted with the bad.

A sad set of terms are now fitting to us. We are lost, wayward, drifting, restless, fallen, broken, fractured, alienated, separated, partial, incomplete, sinful and dying.

A vocabulary of salvation is what we need. We need nothing short of intervention, rescue, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration — salvation! This is exactly what our Maker provided for us in our Redeemer, Jesus Christ. 

Ministry should always keep four truths in view

  1. A glory we had at the beginning (Genesis 1:26-27).
  2. A glory we fell from in our sin (Romans 3:23; 5:12; James 3:9)
  3. A glory being restored by the Spirit (through God’s gift of salvation and indwelling Spirit, Romans 6:23: II Corinthians 3:18)
  4. A glory fully restored when Christ returns (Philippians 3:20-21; Colossians 3:1-4;I John 3:1-2; despite our present suffering, Romans 8:18).

The starting and ending point for understanding ministry must be shaped by the theme of glory.

Most Christians need a better vision of the greatness of their salvation — a panoramic view! We must learn to think of salvation as a return to full and final glory — a return to the Imago Dei (image of God). 

Steve Cornell 

 

 

Mind, emotions and the gospel

“Human life is fundamentally a life of the mind. The posture of the mind determines so much about the character of an individual’s life.” (Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion, p. 26).

Mind and emotions

Emotions are based on concerns. They arise because one cares about something that gives occasion to certain feelings.

Emotions are deeply connected to how one chooses to construe her circumstances in a matter related to a real concern. A construal – is an interpretation of the meaning of something; a way of viewing or a perspective on a situation, experience, or person.

Emotions and construals

  • To feel indignant is to choose to see myself or someone close to me as intentionally injured by someone in a matter of some concern to myself.
  • Becoming angry with someone necessarily involves construing him as obnoxious, offensive, or some such thing.
  • To feel despair is to see my life, which I deeply desire to be meaningful, as holding nothing, or nothing of importance to me.
  • To feel envious is to see myself as losing against some competitor in a competition on which I am basing my self-esteem.
  • To feel guilty is to see myself as having offended against a moral or quasi-moral standard to which I subscribe.

How to dispel emotion

“Because emotions are construals, and construals always require some ‘terms,’ to succeed in dispelling an emotion, I must somehow get myself to cease to see the situation in one set of terms, and probably must get myself to see it in different terms.”

Control over emotions

“It is important to Christians that emotions are partially within people’s control, that they can be commanded. Scripture commands us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. When Scripture reminds us that love is not jealous, or irritable, or resentful it seems to assume that these feelings are broadly within the control of the reader. Being resentful is not like being five foot six or having congenitally bad teeth.” (R. Roberts, p. 21).

Emotions and the Gospel

The ‘terms’ of the Christian emotions are provided by the Christian story, there is a necessary connection between the Christian emotions and the Christian story” (Ibid. p. 21)

“The gospel message provides people with a distinctive way of construing the world: the Maker of the universe is your personal loving Father and has redeemed you from sin and death in the life and death and resurrection of His son Jesus. You are a child of God, destined along with many brothers and sisters to remain under his protection forever and to be transformed into something unspeakably lovely” (Ibid., p. 16).

  • To experience peace with God is to view God as a reconciled enemy.
  • To experience hope is to see one’s own future in the eternity of God’s kingdom,
  • To be Christianly grateful is to see various precious gifts, such as existence, sustenance, and redemption, as bestowed by God.

Not our whole story

“Christianity is, among other things, the wonderfully good news that this life is not our whole story… The few years that we live in this body… are a kind of pilgrimage, a sojourn, a preparatory trip on the way to something much greater. For the Christian, this present existence is provisional. He is aware that every activity he undertakes is schooling for something else—that it is all directed toward a higher end” (Roberts).

Steve Cornell

Will you answer the call?

Those who follow Christ are called to a life that is passionate for the honor of God’s name, the advancement of God’s kingdom and the fulfillment of God’s will. A life on divine mission is fueled by zeal for God’s name, kingdom and will.

The best way to deeply infuse these passions and priorities into your life is to repeatedly offer them as prayers to God.

Pray in this way, Jesus taught,

“Our Father in heaven, may Your name be honored. May Your kingdom come soon. May Your will be done on earth just as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9, N.L.T.)

Don’t pass over the line “on earth as it is in heaven” because it sets the focus and the standard for this life and eternity.

Heaven on earth? Yes! While we long for heaven itself, we pursue heaven like realities on earth! God is honored, worshipped and obeyed in heaven. Let this be done on earth as it is in heaven

As we call out to God (daily) for these great concerns, they become our motive for our words and works.

Before praying: “give us,” “forgive us,” and “deliver us,” we are called to intercede for higher concerns: God’s name, God’s kingdom and God’s will

By starting prayer as Jesus taught, we learn to keep first things first. It’s natural to focus prayer first on ourselves. But before praying: “give us,” “forgive us,” and “deliver us”—we need to express higher concerns: God’s name, God’s kingdom and God’s — come first.

The highest purpose to life

Here then is the highest purpose to life! Life’s priorities must be shaped by these concerns. Life’s meaning is found in these passions. 

But when praying this way, we’re acknowledging that certain things are needed (and missing) in the world. We acknowledge that:

  • God’s name is not being honored. 
  • God’s rule on earth has not been fully established.
  • God’s will is not being done. 

When we pray this way, we’re not only admitting that the world is in rebellion against God, we’re committing to someone greater than ourselves. We’re centering the desire of our hearts and the mission of our lives on:

  • Honor for God’s name 
  • Submission to God’s kingship 
  • Obedience to God’s will. 

Praying this way leads us to long for the time when, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11; Isaiah 2:12, 17).

The zeal of the people of God should be that without exception every tongue should acknowledge the supreme honor already given to Jesus by God the Father (Ephesians 1:18-22;  Colossians 1:18 ).

Prayer will lead us into this zeal and as the late John R. W. Stott wrote, “It is this zeal for Christ which integrates the worship and witness of the church. How can we worship Christ and not mind that others do not? It is our worship of Christ which impels us to witness to Christ, in order that others may come and worship him too”  (The Contemporary Christian, p. 368).

Of those who lack such zeal, Stott asked, “… Have these men, then, no jealousy for the honour of Jesus Christ? Do they not care when he is despised and rejected? Do they not long, as God does, that all human beings, whatever their culture or religion, will bow their knee to Jesus, and submit to him as their Lord?” (Ibid.)

Stay on mission through disciplined and passionate prayer focused on the highest possible concerns available to humanity.

  • Universal honor for God’s name 
  • Total submission to His kingship 
  • Complete obedience to His will. 
Steve Cornell

Evil and death are conquered!

As we approach the time of year when Christians focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we stand in awe of the way God chose for victory over evil and death. 

Take time to reflect on this great quote and the Scriptures and song of worship below:

“Evil is conquered as evil because God turns it back upon itself. He makes the supreme crime, the murder of the only righteous person, the very operation that abolishes sin. The maneuver is utterly unprecedented” (Henri Blocher).

  • “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (II Corinthians 5:21, NLT).
  • Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying” (John 11:25, NLT).

6 Affirmations for the Church

“America appears to be moving more and more toward uniformity by enforced unity.” So wrote R. C. Sproul nearly 30 years ago. When he penned these words, the term tolerance was not yet in popular use. RC detected trends that would result in a state led coercion forcing the public to conform to politically approved positions on a growing list of issues.

As the academy increasingly rejected the possibility of truths that transcend historical and cultural limitations, distrust grew toward religious truths in particular. This was especially the case when faith statements contained elements of exclusivity.

The six affirmations RC wrote in response to these trends are even more relevant today. 

  1. We agree with the search for global harmony, but not at the expense of truth.
  2. We agree that a greater knowledge of other religions is enriching, but in comparing them we cannot surrender Christ’s claim to be the truth.
  3. We agree that colonial attitudes of superiority are arrogant, but still insist that truth is superior to falsehood.
  4. We agree that Scripture is culture-conditioned, but affirm that through it God has spoken his Word of truth.
  5. We agree that the ultimate mystery of God is beyond human apprehension, but affirm that God has truly revealed himself in Christ.
  6. We agree that it is an essential part of our Christian calling to serve the poor, but we are also called to bear witness to the truth.

8 Identity Markers

325928430_640To live on mission, we must personalize the identity markers that define who we are and why we’re here.

Review the following 8 identity markers often. Reflect deeply on the meaning and implications of each one. Define your life, sense of calling and purpose around them.  

These identity markers answer important questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What should I do?Who do I serve? How should I live?

  1. Salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
  2. Light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16)
  3. Disciple Makers (Matthew 28:18-20)
  4. Witnesses (Acts 1:8: I Peter 3:15-16)
  5. Ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:17-21)
  6. Imitators of God (Luke 6:35-36; Eph. 5:1-2, 25)
  7. Reflectors of God’s Glory (I Corinthians 10:31)
  8. Agents of Grace (Colossians 4:5-6)

Steve Cornell

Spreading the Word

I never planned to write for public newspapers but it’s been one of my extension ministries for nearly 20 years now. The two primary newspapers I write for are the Sunday News of Lancaster, Pennsylvania and The Morning Call of the Lehigh Valley area of Pennsylvania.

I try to make these columns available through this blog and I ask for your prayers as I communicate through these venues. When you read my columns, please keep in mind that they are written for a very large and diverse readership.

I receive a good bit of feedback from a readership that extends to hundreds of thousands of people. Comments vary from deep appreciation to outright anger and hostility. I continue to be blessed by numerous hand written letters from older readers who offer heartfelt encouragement for me to keep speaking the truth. It is somewhat exceptional for public newspapers to allow pieces written with a Christian worldview.

An editorial staff always looks closely at the amount of response and sharing a columnist receives as they consider placement of articles. This means that you can help sustain these opportunities by using feedback or sharing tools associated with articles. Thank you.

Set the proper tone for effective communication (The Morning Call, March, 8, 2014)

It’s not always what you say but sometimes how you say it. Tone of voice matters in good communication – it can make or break a conversation. If you have to work with or for someone who is always using negative words and tones, you know how much these matter in communication.

Trust lacking in today’s society (Sunday News of Lancaster, March 9, 2014)

How important is trust to a good relationship? How necessary is trust to a healthy society? In my role as a pastor, I know what happens to relationships when trust is deeply violated. … There is little doubt that people today are far less trusting of each other than previous generations. …. The virtue of trust has all but disappeared in society.

Steve Cornell

Two versions of reality

I. Reality without God

If there is no personal Creator, our existence is most certainly a cosmic accident. We exist by chance, not by design or purpose. If this is an accurate accounting for our existence, several facts follow:

  1. All our notions of ultimate meaning and purpose are based on wishful thinking and irrational fantasy.
  2. There is no final morality; no right or wrong; no transcendent morality. Morals are simply matters of personal or societal opinion or preference. The so-called problem of evil cannot be addressed and cannot (on rational grounds) really be called a problem.
  3. Death is both the irreversible cessation of organismic functioning and the irreversible loss of personhood. There is no hope of anything outside of this life. Apart from the existence of a Creator, we exist by chance in a deterministic universe governed by raw natural selection.

If this is the true version of reality, I guess we just need to get on with it until it’s over — doing our best to reduce the misery and increase the pleasure. But why then do humans everywhere throughout all of history intuitively sense that this is not the case? Why do we have this pervasive longing for meaning, morality and destiny?

II. Reality with God

If, on the other hand, there is a Creator, a personal God who made us male and female in His image, then at least three truths follow:

  1. Life has value, meaning and dignity beyond the limitation of human opinion.
  2. Personal identity, human freedom and responsibility become genuine markers of our daily existence. We have been endowed by our Creator with these qualities.
  3. The transcendent (which we intuitively sense) elevates us out of the despair of human relativism and the limitations of human inquiry.

“Where is there a hope large enough truly to overcome death? Where is there hope sufficiently encompassing to enable us to know that all our pain and suffering has not been in vain? How do we bring together the contrary oracles (raised in Ecclesiastes) concerning both the vanity of everything and the eternity that God has placed in our hearts?”

“Human beings need to orient their lives by means of some sort of comprehensive perspective that helps them comprehend life’s particulars. Our profound yearning can be met only by a spacious narrative, personal enough to help us find our particular place in it and enduring enough to make that place significant.”

“The Biblical chronicle of the Triune God is the perfect narrative to empower us to envision the meaning of our lives. The Scriptures enable us to discern our most profound longings expressed or not, to name who human beings are and what we want to do, to fathom even more clearly who God is, and to perceive how all these things connect. It is a meta-narrative large enough, thorough enough, and promising enough to give us the hope we need to live courageously in the midst of an unbalanced, technologically driven, co-modification-distorted world.”

“The Bible offers a grandly sweeping meta-narrative. That is one of the thrills of reading Scriptures, for they paint an account of God’s action on our behalf from the beginning of the world to the culmination of God’s purposes in the recapitulation of the cosmos.” (Marva J. Dawn, Unfettered Hope: A Call to Faithful Living in an affluent Society)

See: Why I follow a Christian worldview

Steve Cornell