web analytics

Tag Archive | "Jesus"

An Empty Tomb is not an Empty Promise


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

“The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vault” aired almost three decades ago this week, and at the time, it was the most watched syndicated television show in history. The charismatic host of the show that evening promised the unveiling of long-kept secrets, the unknotting of historical mystery, and priceless artifacts from where Capone once lived. That host was Geraldo Rivera.

Yes, before he had his nose broken on daytime television; before he had fat sucked from his buttocks and shot into his forehead; before he was sent packing from Afghanistan for disclosing the location of US troops; and before that viral shirtless selfie on Twitter, Rivera had long ago revealed how ill-advised some of his decisions could be.

With 30 million people watching to see mysteries solved and questions answered, the vault was opened revealing nothing—unless you consider an empty gin bottle to be of historical importance. The opening of Capone’s treasures was a story as empty as the vault.

I must confess that Easter can sometimes leave us feeling like Geraldo. On Resurrection Sunday we gather with the sold-out crowd and hear the report of Jesus coming back to life. “He is risen!” we are told, and his resurrection gives “hope for ourselves, for the world, and for the future.”

But is this a publicity stunt? How can one man’s resurrection centuries ago make any real difference within the scope of eternity? Isn’t this a metaphysical fraud used to boost Christianity’s ratings? Answering similar objections, the Apostle Paul wrote, “If Christ hasn’t been raised, then our faith is worthless.”

Unafraid to soften his words, Paul goes on to say that without Easter, Christianity is a farce; eternal life is a promise built on overhyped lies; God’s grace has been misrepresented; and those who adhere to the faith are as pitiful as Geraldo in a warzone (that line is not a quote from Paul, though he might have appreciated it).

Nonetheless, in rising from the dead, Jesus signaled that he would redeem humanity by overcoming all enemies, even death, and return the universe to wholeness. He will bring all of God’s creation back to life, making “life worth the living,” as the old song goes, “just because he lives.” So we confess this hope: “Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” An ambitious confession? Yes, but confession that the tomb is empty is far more than an empty promise.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

All means All


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

“We three kings of Orient are.” So begins a favorite carol of the Advent season about the “Wise Men” who visit the newborn Jesus. And so begins a tale that takes inaccuracy and historical revisionism to a whole new level.

First, we don’t know how many kings there were. There could have been as few as two and up to almost any number. Second, they were not “kings” from the Orient. They were, put more accurately, Magi. The Magi were astronomers – primitive by today’s standards – who were on the cutting edge of scientific and philosophical knowledge in their day. Such men called Persia home (modern day Iran), not the Far East.

Third, these men did not find the Christ child while “following yonder star.” They saw the star “in the East” or “at the rising of the sun,” but then proceeded west to Palestine. The star did not reappear until they were already in Bethlehem. And finally, the Magi, technically, do not belong in the Nativity scene at all. They were latecomers to the Christmas party, maybe as late as Jesus’ second birthday.

Still, “We Three Kings” remains one of my favorite Holiday hymns to bellow out this time of year, for the journey of the Magi is a fascinating exercise in unexpected faith. They came seeking the child who had been born king of the Jews, based almost entirely on the appearance of an enigmatic star.

While history is rampant with explanations for this phenomena, one conclusion is certain: The Magi interpreted this unusual sign in the heavens as a clear communication that something extraordinary had taken place in the world. And even more extraordinary, these Persian sages applied their interpretation to the emergence of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

Why so astonishing? Not many people would launch out on a dangerous journey based solely on a spiritual hunch. Not many people would put their life on hold to prove their mystical intuitions true. And not many Persians (today’s Iranians) would worship at the feet (or manger) of a Jew.

Yet, in God’s way, these all belonged together. Divisions of race, religion, nationality or ethnicity did not factor into the equation. This is a foreshadowing of the Apostle Paul’s words: “You are all the same in Christ Jesus.” All are welcome into the presence of the One who will “reconcile everything – all things in heaven and on earth to himself.”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

The ones Jesus loves


Ronnie McBrayer

Ronnie McBrayer

“Just who do you think you are?” Now there’s a question that has been posed and pointed more than a few times. Usually it is a weaponized question of sorts, laden with accusation. Nevertheless, I think it is an essential question of spiritual identity.

Consider the writer of the New Testament book commonly known as “John.” Tradition holds that this Gospel was written by the disciple John, one of Jesus’ closest associates, though the writer, mysteriously, never identifies himself by name. He used an alias, a pen name tagged: “The one Jesus loved.”

Why such a moniker? I think he was using a literary device to force his readers to take hold of the core meaning of what it means to be in relationship with Jesus Christ. He was asking the question, “Just who do you think you are?”

John understood that his core identity was directly connected to the love Christ had for him. So much so, that he did not think of himself as a fisherman, a disciple, an apostle, a Gospel writer, or a Church Father. He was simply one who was supremely loved. Likewise, we are not defined by occupation, label, race, nationality, culture, popularity, or the ancillary chorus of the voices around us. We are simply the Ones Jesus Loves. This is who we really are.

Is this too much to understand? Probably so. But I don’t have to understand it to embrace it and live it. I don’t understand the science of how the sun can be 93 million miles away, provide life-giving light to this planet, and keep our solar system from devolving into chaos, but I believe it, and I experience its light and heat every day. I don’t understand Newton’s Law of Gravitation or Einstein’s later Theory of Relativity, but I know these things keep my feet grounded on planet earth every day, and anchor me within this time and space.

I understand very little about these things. But can’t God’s love in Christ work the same way? As a shining light, a grounding force, a sustaining atmosphere; an affection, passion, and serenity that gives us life and meaning?

No, we can only understand bits and piece of it all, but our lack of complete knowledge should not prevent us from believing and living this fact: We are unconditionally and eternally adored by God. We are indeed, the Ones Jesus Loves.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Have You Seen the Lord?


Pastor Robert Eckert

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave., Rockford

 

“But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord’”(John 20:24-25).

If you’re a church-going person, this coming Sunday there’s a good chance you’ll hear the story from the gospel of John that describes an incident in the life of a man who has come to be known as “Doubting Thomas.”

If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s a quick summary. Following his crucifixion, burial, and resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples, at a time when all were present, except one named Thomas. Later, after Jesus had gone and Thomas was again with them, the disciples told him of Jesus’ appearance, to which Thomas replied, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

In some churches this Sunday, Thomas might be presented in a negative light, as an unnecessarily skeptical man who should have been ready and willing to believe that Jesus, who had raised Lazarus back to life from death, could also be raised to life himself.

In other churches, Thomas might be presented as simply human, a questioner, a rational thinker, a thoughtful man who merely wanted to be certain that such a remarkable thing as Jesus’ resurrection could have happened. After all, he doesn’t say to his comrades, “that’s impossible,” he only says, “I want to see for myself.”

But let’s take a look at the other disciples. They probably won’t get as much attention this coming Sunday and they deserve credit for reporting candidly, frankly, and succinctly, “We have seen the Lord.”

They could have played games with Thomas. “You’ll never guess what happened when you were gone!”

They could have competed to claim storytelling rights. “I was standing at the table when Jesus appeared.” “But you had your back to him, I was standing where I could see his face.” “No, here’s what happened: I was just saying, ‘did you hear what Mary Magdalene says she saw at the tomb of Jesus?’ and then, surprise, he was right here with us.”

They could have editorialized, interpreted, or annotated, but they didn’t. They simply said, “We have seen the Lord.”

What about you? Have you seen the Lord? What about in this morning’s first smile from your two-year-old daughter? In the full moon that hung over the area a couple nights ago? In the face of the friend who accompanied you to that doctor’s appointment that had you so worried? In the tender, wizened face of the grandmother you visited last weekend? In the enthusiasm of children at an Easter egg hunt? In the faithfulness of your spouse who remembers to say “I love you” each night before falling asleep? Resurrection is about life and every sign of life is a sign of the resurrection of Jesus. Have you seen the Lord? Have you mentioned it to someone else?

 

Posted in From the PulpitComments Off

Easter and incomplete answers


 

Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

On Easter morning, a Sunday School teacher began to quiz her class of young children about the real meaning of the day. “What is Easter?” she asked, and the students were ready to respond. A little boy said, “Easter is that holiday when we get together with our families, eat turkey, and everyone is thankful.” The teacher answered, “No, not quite. Does anyone else know?” Another child answered, “Easter is the holiday when we grill burgers and hotdogs, shoot off fireworks, and celebrate our country’s birthday.”

Again, the teacher replied, “No, not quite.” She began to wonder if anyone in the room knew what Easter was really about. But then a little girl stood and began speaking, “Easter is a Christian holiday that follows the remembrance of Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Jesus was buried in tomb, and a large rock was rolled over the entrance.”

The teacher nearly squealed in delight. But then the girl continued, “And on Easter morning the stone is rolled away so Jesus can get out. Then, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter.” No, not quite.

While the children in this story gave incomplete answers, the question asked is still a good one: “What is Easter?” Despite a gazillion Easter sermons and Sunday School classes, our answers may still be a little lacking.

Many believers spend Easter morning proclaiming or listening to massive, exhaustive explanations of the resurrection miracle. The gospel accounts are analyzed and reconciled; scientific objections are considered and then dismantled; skeptics are scolded and unbelievers are disregarded. It is apologetic calisthenics, a vigorous workout in defending Jesus’ reputation, and not quite the answer.

Easter is reduced to defending the Christian dogma, but it is so much more than that. It is a revolution of transforming hope for the world. Easter is not just a doctrine; it is a powerful, redemptive way to live today. When God raised Jesus from the dead – and Christians believe Christ is indeed risen – he signaled the beginning of the redemption of all things, and provided the potency to bring this redemption to its fulfillment.

So we must do more than explain Easter. We must live it and “get in” on it today. We must use it to instigate heaven on earth. We must do more than say “He is Risen,” we must become the living proof of Christ’s resurrection power.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

It’s all about balance


Pastor Herb VanderBilt

East Nelson United Methodist Church

9024 18 Mile Rd. Cedar Springs

 

 

“Now we ask you, brothers, to respect those who work hard among you, who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Brothers, pray for us. Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you (I Thessalonians 5:12-28).

Paul’s words of advice to Timothy, over 2000 years ago, are good advice even today. Basically he is reminding Timothy that life is a balance of holding onto the good and avoiding the evil.  Recently we heard a lecture by the noted New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, where he said that the message of the church also has to be in balance or in harmony. He used the metaphor of a quadraphonic stereo with a speaker in each corner of the room and how if one speaker is too loud, it distorts the sound and destroys the harmony. I think that the apostle Paul is also telling Timothy to look for this balance in helping people not only grow the early church, but also those who are just discovering Jesus Christ. We can also use this metaphor in how to find balance in our lives today. We all have people in our lives pulling us one way or the next and we also need to find the balance in our relationships with others. If we use the idea of four speakers we can think of our relationship with our friends, our job, our family and Church as the quadraphonic space that we live in. If one of these speakers is too loud it affects how we hear the others. If we turn down our friends and only listen to the other three, it will distort the melody of life and so on with the other three. All of these speakers keep the spirits fire alive in us; turn any of them off and we put out the spirit’s fire. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

 

 

Posted in From the PulpitComments Off

Make Your Home with Me


By Ronnie McBrayer

Lately, one of Jesus’ more cryptic phrases has been making laps inside my head. These words were spoken on the last night Jesus was with his disciples: “Abide in me, and I will abide in you.” Jesus was welcoming his disciples to remain connected with him and to rely upon him. “Stay put. Don’t abandon your relationship with me,” Jesus was saying. Eugene Peterson translates Jesus words like this, “Make your home in me.”

That’s not so cryptic, as we understand home quite well. Home is where each day begins and where it ends. Home is where we eat, rest, relax, take shelter, play, and love. Home is where we go when there is no other place, and where we always return. Home is that glorious place where we walk around in our socks and underwear, scratch our backsides without worrying about who is looking, and lounge around on the weekend without showering or shaving if we so choose. Home is where we can drop all our burdens, barriers and coping mechanisms.

Home is sweet, it is where the heart is, and it is our castle. It is where we bring the bacon and where we wait for the cows to arrive. Home is like no other place in the world, and no matter where or how far we travel, home is where we always call, well, home. It is where we feel safe, secure, and ultimately, where we can be ourselves. Jesus said, “Make your home”—relax and be yourself—“with me.”

I believe that a large portion of our personal suffering stems from the fact that we often go looking for “home” in all the wrong places. The wrong career, the wrong person or relationship, the wrong ambitions: We are searching for that comfortable place where we can prop our shoeless feet on the coffee table and be accepted as the real, natural people that we are.

When that no-strings-attached acceptance is not forthcoming, we begin to work, worry, toil and sweat, manipulate and be manipulated, all in an attempt to get others to take us as we are. We end up being strangers to ourselves, living within the artificial structures we have created, but it sure isn’t home sweet home. It’s miserable. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We can give ourselves over to Christ, in total dependence, and find rest for our homesick souls.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Light of Heaven’s Dove


Rogue River Community Theatre presented “The Light Of Heaven’s Dove,” a musical drama about the life of Christ, at the Kent Theatre in Cedar Springs last weekend.
It is a message play about Jesus the Christ, whose life and travels have touched all of humanity throughout history and will continue to do so in the times to come.
Jesus, of Nazareth, was played by John Hogan and Mary was played by Teresa Lautenbach. Patricia Rose, of Rockford wrote, staged, choreographed and directed the show.
Their next and last performance for this show will be Dec. 6, at 7:30pm at Basilica of St. Adalberts Cathedral, 701 4th St. NW, Grand Rapids.

Posted in Arts & EntertainmentComments Off

Lessons from Lazarus


Pastor Ryan Black
Cedar Springs Christian Church
340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

From the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, we learn certain lessons. The first lesson is about reason. You cannot have radical faith until you’ve exhausted all reasonable solutions. Mary and Martha didn’t send for Jesus until they’d done everything they could do for Lazarus. Be reasonable; if you can do it for yourself, God won’t do it for you. For example, unless you are willing to change your diet and start eating right, how can you go to God with confidence for healing? Unless you are willing to put the needs of your spouse above your own, what’s the point in praying for a happy marriage? James writes: “Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).
The second lesson is about relationship. Some folks only turn to God when they have a crisis. Prayer is a foreign concept to them until they have a car wreck, or their marriage falls apart, or they lose their job. Then, incredibly, they say, “God, why did you let this happen?” It’s hard to go to someone when you’re in trouble, if you’ve spent no time building a relationship with them. Jesus often spent time at the home of Mary and Martha, eating at their table. They were givers, not takers. “It was that mary who anointed the Lord with fragrant oil and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was sick” (John 11:2). When you love the lord to that extent, you can go to him in faith knowing your needs will be met.
The third lesson is about relinquishment. As long as you believe you can handle the problem on your own, you will not reach for the miracle-working power of God. You have to be in a situation so terrible that you pray the prayer of relinquishment: “Lord, I’ve done all i know and things aren’t getting any better. So I’m through trying to fix it. I turn it completely over to you. I don’t know how you’re going to handle it, but I know you love me and want only what’s best for me. So here it is, Lord; it’s all yours.” This is not a prayer of defeat; it is one of total trust. David wrote: “Though i am surrounded by troubles…the Lord will work out his plans for my life—for your faithful love, o lord, endures forever” (ps 138:7-8 ).
Before leaving the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, here are two more lessons: the fourth lesson is about radical faith. When somebody is dead and buried, that’s as “final” as it gets. To believe God in the face of such a situation requires radical faith.  Until this moment, Martha had “if only” faith. “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). But then she began to realize what Jesus could do, and moved to “even now” faith. She said to Jesus, “but even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.” Radical faith says, “Lord, I believe that my future can be greater than my past, that you can turn the situation around and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, that nothing is too hard for you.” Radical faith in the face of radical circumstances brings radical results.

Posted in From the PulpitComments Off

Christmas Carries Over


Pilgrim Bible Church
West Pine St., Cedar Springs
Rev. Mike Shiery

Each Christmas we read again the stories of the birth of Jesus and the visits of the shepherds and wise men to His birthplace. These stories come with all the old charm, and their message thrills us again because of its wonder and meaning. I confess that the powerful truth of Christmas, that God loved each individual enough to give us all the Gift that we didn’t deserve, stirs and thrills me to the depths of my being.
I love the majestic simplicity of the Christmas story, as well as the lights, decorations, traditions, family time, feeling of good will, and even the snow and cold weather. One songwriter poignantly expressed the feelings of many people when he wrote: “If everyday could be just like Christmas, what a wonderful world this would be.”
Of course we know that Christmas Day will soon be past, the carols will no longer be sung, and the decorations will be packed and stored away for months to come. However, the spirit of Christmas does not need to be relegated to some box in the closet, but can forever impact us.
I believe that the road map for such living can be found in the story of the shepherds and the wise men. The Bible tells us that after the shepherds had been to the stable, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen.”
Then after the wise men had worshiped the babe, they returned home by a different route from that which they had previously traveled.
The thought that I would like us to consider is that the experience of the shepherds and of the wise men carried over in our lives. It wasn’t the experience of a day or an hour. It was an experience that would enrich their lives ever afterward.
It is the experiences which carry over that make life wonderful and beautiful and rich. Sometimes they are rather simple happenings; a boy will remember all his life the touchdown he made in an unimportant game; a girl will receive a school honor which brings pleasure all her life. Of course, there will also be outstanding events that carry over.
It is possible for us to have experiences this Christmas season which will carry over and give beauty and richness and meaning to our lives long after this Christmas is past.
I encourage you to make good memories, cherish family time, enjoy traditions, and revel in the joy of the Christmas season. But most of all, make the foundation of your Christmas experience a relationship with Jesus Christ. After all, He truly is the reason for the season.

Posted in Church Connection, From the PulpitComments Off