What Are We On About?

God’s word leads us down a different path.

O.T. LESSON:   Isaiah  56:1-8
N.T. LESSON:   II Cor 5:14-21

The Lighthouse

There’s a lighthouse on the hillside
that overlooks life’s sea ,
When I’m tossed it sends out a light
that I might see.
And the light that shines in darkness now
will safely lead us o’er
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse
my ship would be no more.

And I thank God for the lighthouse
I owe my life to him,
For Jesus is the lighthouse
and from the rocks of sin
He has shone a light around me
that I might clearly see
If it wasn’t for the lighthouse
where would this ship be.

Everybody that lives around us
says, “tear that old lighthouse down,
The big ships don’t sail this way anymore
there’s no use of it standing ’round”
Then my mind goes back to that stormy  night
when just in time I saw the light
The light from that old lighthouse
that stands up there on the hill 7

In our ‘post-modernist’ society, principles and objective truth have taken a backseat to a ‘make me feel good’ and ‘as long as it works’ approach to life. If religion works for you that’s great, but it really doesn’t affect me.

However God’s word leads us down a different path. Society wants an ‘at-a-boy!’ but followers of the Way (as the apostle Paul calls them) are called to ‘sing a different tune’.  As Paul stood before Felix in Ceasarea, he presented the Gospel (the Good News) and “he discoursed on righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come” [Acts 24:25].  In contrast to the world wanting to be comfortable and accepted, we as believers are called to be countercultural, and to expect rejection and persecution [see I Peter 1:6,7].  And notice Felix’s response in verses 25,26: he “was afraid.. ‘when it is convenient I will send for you’… he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe“.

What God has called us to be in this world is to be a community of believers practicing the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. You see Jesus told his followers “as you are going [that’s what the sense is of the word ‘Go’] into all the world preach the good news to all creation making disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father,Son, Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” [Mark 16:15; Matt 28:19,20].

The early church had a hard time with the going: it took major persecution to get them to scatter throughout the area [Acts 8:1]. And then as Paul was commissioned, the gospel became a phenomenon throughout the ‘then known world’.  History says it went from Spain to China.  And a missionary to South America found evidence of the Gospels’ message high in the Andes where white men had never gone. 6

God also called us to the Great Commandment: “Love each other.  Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.  Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples” [John 13:34,35 NLT].  And what does that love look like?

“Love is very patient and kind, never jealous or envious, never boastful or proud, never haughty or selfish or rude.  Love does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable or touchy.  It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong.  It is never glad about injustice, but rejoices whenever truth wins out.  It you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost.  You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him. .. love goes on forever.” [I Cor 13:4-8a Living Bible]

And God has given us a framework in which to develop this: it’s called ‘the church’, the body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, a building expertly built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets with Christ as the chief cornerstone [Ephesians 2:20].  And in this church “he…gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets.. evangelists…pastor/teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service so that the body of Christ will be built up.. and become mature… and build itself up in love as each part does it’s work.” [Ephesians 4:11-16].

Eugene Peterson in his book The Unnecessary Pastor says that sometimes pastors or leaders will think that nothing happens without them.  Then he goes on to say “We (pastors) have important work to do, but if we don’t do it God can always find someone else, and probably not a pastor”. You see a pastor isn’t someone you hire “who is an expert to keep you ahead of the competition– or someone to follow so you don’t have to follow Jesus anymore” 1 , but rather someone who leads by example; challenging, cajoling, comforting, and lighting the fire of the compassion of Christ under you, equipping and together with you discipling, training and welcoming into the church those who are being saved. [Acts 2:47].

The activity of the Christian / “follower of ‘The Way'” then is to do the work of helping people come to know Jesus and helping those who know him (whom to know is life eternal — see John 17:3) to grow and develop in their expression of the character of Jesus Christ [Romans 8:29].  “Be energetic in your life of salvation, reverent and sensitive before God 2 for it is God who inspires you with the will (the ‘itch’ 3) to do the good things which you desire to do 4, and also the power to achieve His purpose 5[Philippians 2:13] .. For I’m convinced that “No temptation [this word can also be ‘testing’] has seized you except what is common to man(kind 3).  And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. [I Cor 10:13]”

Will you trust Him — that is, abandon yourself to his mercy and accept his gracious forgiveness and thorough cleansing and on that basis love with God’s unconditional AGAPE love — love your family, your church family, all those who are the blood-washed ones — loving in such a way that those who are outside of the kingdom will be forced to say  “look at how they love each other, at how they care for each other”.

Then God will get the glory and those who are prepared will be added to the body of the believers (the followers of “The Way”) – and the angels will be rejoicing.

1  Peterson, Eugene. The Unnecessary Pastor, Grand Rapids, Eardmans,  2000. [return to message]
2  Peterson, Eugene. The Message.  NavPress Publishing Group, 1995. [return to message]
3 D. H. Friesen [return to message]
4 Lamsa New Testament (translated from the Peshitta), Philedelphia, A.J. Holman Company, 1968. [return to message]
5  Phillips, J.B. N.T. in Modern English, London, Geoffrey Bless, 1960. [return to message]
6 Olsen, Bruce. Bruchko, Orlando, Creation House, 1993. [return to message]
7 Words and music by Ronny Hinson, Journey Music Co., 1971. [return to message]

The Fellowship of Faith: You are the People of God

God uses ORDINARY PEOPLE to accomplish EXTRAORDINARY tasks.


You are: THE PEOPLE OF GOD (1 Peter 2:9,10)

OT LESSON: Deut. 29:2-15
NT LESSON: 1 Thess 4:14-18;5:6-11

God uses ORDINARY PEOPLE to accomplish EXTRAORDINARY tasks

When Catherine the Great of Russia invited the Mennonites to come to Russia, she wasn’t interested in their faith, she was interested in their vocation. They were farmers by and large, and among them were the Dutch who had reclaimed vast areas of land for farming from the sea. They knew how to build dykes and manage agriculture, and they were not scared to work. [2. Troyat, Henri, translation Joan Pinkham, Catherine the Great, New York, E.P. Dutton, 1977] They had internalized Ephesians 6:7,8 “working as to the Lord and not unto men.”

The early history of the church has those kinds of stories. In Acts 2:42-47 they started by putting the emphasis on caring for the needs of everyone. James describes the response to faith in James 2:14-17 “Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything?… Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?” (MSG [6. Peterson, Eugene, The Message, Colorado Springs, NavPress, 1993])

We are justified – that is put right with God – by faith alone, but it is a faith that is not alone. Genuine faith results in actions that are appropriate expressions of faith. Jesus said that “the work of God is to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29) “whoever believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 3:16) “Go and [and as you go] make disciples… baptizing and teaching…”Matt 28:19,20.

The early church was a society of believers devoted to growing in Christ’s life and he was the standard. They were practical. (see Titus 2:1-3,11, and the book of James). It taught how to live on a practical level. It concerned itself with proper teaching. (for and example see Colossians 1:15-2:23). They had a set of beliefs that were based on the Word of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit. The church described in the New Testament emphasised Spiritual wholeness (see 1 Thess 3:13;5:23; 1 John 4:17,18). It emphasised the freedom that comes from knowing God personally and intimately. [1. Stafford, Dr. Gilbert, Theology for Disciples, Anderson, Warner Press 1996. This is the major source of organization for this material.]

There was also an emphasis on the health of the relationships in the church (see I John 4:19-21)

“When Constantine declared Christianity to be the state religion in 312 AD, it also came out of the fact that a majority of people in the Roman Empire had become Christians. Evangelism had come about, not because of big evangelistic crusades but because of the very strong Christian families and bodies of believers that modelled Christianity. Their neighbours and acquaintances wanted to have what they had.” [7. Richards, Lawrance O., Church Leadership, Grand Rapids, Zondervan Publishing House, 1980]

But the Bible also tells of the ‘warts’ of the early church. (see 1 Cor 3; 5:1-8; 11:17-13:13) Paul talks about immorality, people doing personality cult stuff; they were having parties where some went home hungry and others got drunk at the same time. The church in the first century wasn’t perfect, but it was a people in the process of becoming what God wanted it to become.

The early church attempted to follow the principles Jesus had used. Eddie Askew describes Jesus’ treatment of Matthew this way:

“When Jesus sat down to eat with him and his friends, the critics thought that He was condoning Matthew’s behaviour. Jesus was neither ignoring nor accepting the way Matthew had lived, but was underlining that Matthew’s only way out to something better was with Jesus. He didn’t say, “Matthew, you reform, you change your life and then I’ll think about taking you on.” He offered his help to Matthew, then and there, held out an invitation to him to examine and change his life.

“If Matthew was to be kept on the edge of acceptance until he’d changed, there would have been no change. Change depended on his growing nearer to Jesus. He made no excuses for Matthew’s past life. He didn’t say “Everybody’s doing it, it doesn’t matter.” He answered the critics “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” (Luke 5:31) [3. Askew, Eddie,Cross Purposes, Leprosy Mission, Middlesex UK, Brentford, 1995]

Max Lucado describes it in the title of his book- “God loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way,. He wants you to be-‘JUST LIKE JESUS’ “. [8. Lucado, Max, Just Like Jesus, Nashville, Word Publishing, 1998]

“If the New Testament is permitted to convey its full message to us about the church, we will learn that although the church has a high calling in the economy of God, it is made up of people who have not yet reached eternal glorification. The church is the body of Christ, but it is also in the process of growing up into Christ (Eph 4:15). The church is the new humanity, but also it has to be reminded not to “satisfy the desires of your lower nature” (Gal. 5:16 – Barclay [4. Barclay, William, The New Testament, Louisville, Westminster John Know Press, 1968, 1999]).

The church is the people of God, but it is required also to persevere in order to be saved (Heb. 6:1-8; 10:26-39 see also Luke 9:23)

“The church is a society of people with a new identity given to it by the grace of God, but it is also a band of pilgrims traversing the deserts and rivers of life, climbing mountains, walking through valleys, sometimes falling by the wayside, sometimes failing to follow the signposts, sometimes becoming discouraged and tired and weary, and sometimes forgetting the goal. It is because the church is a band of pilgrims –perhaps we should even say, a ragtag band — that is needs to be schooled well in its new, divine identity given to it in Christ. If it is not so schooled, it will, no doubt, lose heart along the way. In order for the church to keep on keeping on, it needs to hear again and again the message of who it is by grace, namely, the body of Christ, the one new humanity, “God’s ‘chosen generation’, his ‘royal priesthood’, his ‘holy nation’, his ‘peculiar people’ — all the old titles of God’s people now belong to you. It is for you now to demonstrate the goodness of him who has called you out of darkness into his amazing light.” (1 Peter 2:9 JBP[5. Phillips, J.B. The New Testament in Modern English. London, Geoffrey Bless, 1960])

“It is as this new identity is preached and taught patiently, lovingly, and endlessly that the church will be kindled and rekindled in its desire to be continuously re-formed by the Word and re-renewed by the Spirit to be Christ’s new kind of ekklesia. Only then will it be strengthened as the interpersonal network of those whose hearts and minds are captivated by the Lord Jesus. Only then will it take fuller advantage of it’s inheritance as heirs of the ancient promises fulfilled in Christ. Only then will it be in earnest about growing up into the fullness of Christ. Only then will it be the sacramental community of God’s grace and the missionary task force which makes disciples of ;whosoever will’ Only then will the church truly be ready for the coming of the bridegroom.” (Stafford pp 166-167)

The Fellowship of Faith

Despite the fact that originally God had chosen a particular race of people- the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to demonstrate who He was, what his purposes were and His ways, he was now making the relationship open to all who would believe and trust in the name of Jesus the Christ.

You are: A Reconciled Humanity
O.T. LESSON Jeremiah 31:31-34
N.T. LESSON Hebrews 3:1-14

The Gates of Heaven are opened to the Gentiles

The early church was primarily Jewish. Jesus was a Jew [John 1:12], the disciples were Jews. The disciples were sent to “The lost sheep of Israel” [Matt 10:6]. Jesus said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” [Matt15:24]. However, before Jesus left this world he said that the Good News of Salvation should be dispensed to everyone [Matt 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15,16a- Go to all the world preaching and making disciples of all nations].

And in Acts 2:5,11 that’s what began to happen- People from every language group in the ‘then known world’ heard the Message. It moved to the rest of the country , Judea and Samaria, in Acts 8:4,5,14-17,25. Then God prepared Peter to consider going to the Gentiles in Acts 10 [ see vv 9-23,44-48]. A council met in Jerusalem a number of years later,[see Acts 15:5,6;12-15;19-21]The Apostles and significant leaders set an official policy of approach to Gentiles. Paul describes the relationship that came out of that in Ephesians 2:11-22.

Let’s note the Key Phrases-

  • ‘formerly called ‘uncircumcision’ ‘ v.11
  • ‘excluded from citizenship in Israel’ v.12
  • ‘he himself has destroyed the barrier’ v.14
  • ‘reconcile both’ v.16
  • ‘fellow citizens’ v.19
  • ‘built on the foundation’ v.20
  • ‘Jesus- the chief cornerstone’ v.20
  • ‘a dwelling in which God dwells’ v.22

Despite the fact that originally God had chosen a particular race of people- the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to demonstrate who He was, what his purposes were and His ways, he was now making the relationship open to all who would believe and trust in the name of Jesus the Christ.

Paul goes on to show that the ministry of reconciliation [see IICor 5:14-6:2] based on the sacrifice of Christ for us puts both, Jews and non-Jews, insiders and outsiders, together. Whether slave of free, male or female, young or old, all are invited to an intimate relationship with the creator of the universe.

The old ceremonial law that was designed to separate Jews from Gentiles is completed and set aside by the finished work of Christ. He fulfilled all of the symbolism and modelling. –Note the moral law is common to man’s conscience, and was not set aside.[ the code of Hammurabi for example operated on the main principle that “the strong shall not injure the weak’. It set up a social order based on the rights of the individual and was backed by the authority of the Babylonian gods and the state. (“Hammurabi” World Book Encyclopedia.1980) ]

Jesus quoted Isa 56:7 when he said “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”, when he ‘cleansed the temple’ [Mark 11:17]. Isaiah had said “foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him to love the name of the Lord and to worship him…will I bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer…The Sovereign Lord declares– he who gathers the exiles of Israel; ‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered”. [Isa.56:6-8].

God initiated the process of bringing us back into a relationship with him that is real and personal, and as a result we can also have meaningful whole relationships with other believers, both Jew and Gentile, with our family members and neighbours. Paul writes ‘now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.’ Today is the day to bind yourself to the Lord. Recognize what he has done on the cross, and acknowledge that without him we are hopelessly lost. He is waiting for us to respond to his love and grace, so that we ‘all may be one'[John 17:21] and so that the whole world will believe.

2000 D. H. Friesen

Do Whatever He Tells You: Mother’s Day


Old Testament Lesson:  Isaiah 66:1-2, 12,13 New Testament Lesson:  John 2:1-11

Miryam [that’s her name in Hebrew] grew up in a normal Jewish home.  Her parents would have performed the rituals and the roles assigned to them by their society — Tradition! (Shades of “Fiddler on the Roof”).

She most likely didn’t have much education, but she had remembered what she had heard and she had learned to believe and trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  At the critical point in her life she recognized the difference between a fantasy and God communicating to her.  [Notice the parallel between the ‘Magnificat’ in Luke 1:46-56, and the song of Hannah in I Sam. 2:1-11]

Miryam reminds me of my mom. My mom didn’t have a lot of education but she knew her Bible and she listened to God.  She became a key player in my fathers’ ministry as he communicated the Good News of the Gospel in a Children’s ministry for over 26 years in full time service.

We next meet Jesus’ mother in Luke 2.41-52.  The family went to the feast as usual.  Joseph and Mary set a precedent for their children and joined in the pilgrimage to the temple to perform the obligations of the ‘Tanakh’ [the Law- O.T. teachings].  We are introduced to the idea that Jesus had learned his lessons well, when he stayed behind in the temple to discuss with the teachers of the law, a discussion that lasted for three days, only to be interrupted by Jesus’ parents looking to take him home.  [For an indication of what happened in a Jewish home look up II Timothy 1:5; 3:15 -“from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures” … “Your sincere faith, first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice“]

My mom taught my brother and I and anyone who would listen, from the Word. The whole Bible, the popular and the obscure, the difficult as well as the clear.  We were included from infancy in the fellowship of the believers.

[I’m not trying to compare others with my mother but rather celebrate mine and encourage you to follow her example.  Some of you may not be married.  Some may never have had children.  But you can share your faith and trust and teach others what you have learned– nephews, nieces, the neighbourhoods’ kids– my mom did that and often.  After they had retired, kids would come to play and hear stories at “Grandma Friesen’s”- and they were not necessarily her grandchildren.  You can invite the children of your acquaintances to join you in services that celebrate Jesus and his body of Believers.  Some of you have been doing that, and I would like to encourage all of you to consider that as the normal way to do things.]

The next place we see Mary is at the wedding in Cana.  Mary has recognized who Jesus really is; not all of the implications, because she and the rest of her children struggled with Jesus’ popularity and later the lack of acceptance [see Matt 12:46-50].  She said to the servants, “Do whatever He tells you“.  And they did it.

In the book my mom wrote called I Remember When… she describes responding to my fathers’ proposal of marriage and the struggles of a four-year engagement.  Her focus was on a relationship of faith with the risen Lord. It cost her: another suitor, waiting, my fathers’ emotional breakdown (as a result of over-work by a boss who didn’t recognize his efforts).  However all during our “growing-up” years we saw modeled a willingness to serve God even when that was misinterpreted, and unappreciated by others.

Then we see Mary at the cross.  When others deserted, she stayed with him.  “Dear woman, here is your son” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother” [John 19:26,27].   God provides what we need. My mom passed away, but my father remarried- and my stepmother has a heart for God and for ministry like my mom!  God has provided the encouragement my father and our family needed.

Mary was there with the others in the Upper Room.  Though it doesn’t say explicitly, it is implied in Acts 1:14 and 2:1 that she was there at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit came upon all of them, and they spoke in the languages of the people from every corner of the ‘then known world’ who had come for the feast.  They drew attention to the wonders of God, and the Good News of the Salvation provided for all of mankind by the death of Jesus, and that “every one who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Acts 2:21].

My mom spent a lifetime introducing anyone she came across to Jesus. And my stepmother is the same.  She’s retired (in terms of living on a pension) but she hasn’t retired from having a burning desire to see people introduced to Jesus.  Her family has been powerfully influenced by her example.  She works in her church to encourage people to reach out and bring their friends, families and neighbours to meet Jesus.  She works with Child Evangelism Fellowship to organize and encourage churches and young people to infiltrate neighbourhoods in their cities and towns with the Gospel, through summer “5-day clubs” and ‘Tel-a-story’.

This Mother’s Day, tell your mom or stepmother that you love her. Some of you don’t have one of those, so remember the wonderful parts of their lives (ignore the negatives). If your mother doesn’t know Jesus, gently share what He means to you, and what He could mean to her. Go and “mother” those who need one.  Be a nurturer, sharing and caring and bringing into the kingdom those who need to know Jesus.  Encourage and support those who need to grow in their faith.

Celebrate Mother’s Day with Jesus as the reason for your life and the Focus of your hope.

“I Remember When…” was self-published and is not currently available.

© 2000 D. H. Friesen

The Body of Christ

O.T. Lesson: Psalm  51:1-8
N.T. Lesson: Ephesians 4:1-6We live in a society that prides itself in tolerance and concern for others, and protection of rights, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from discrimination, etc.  And sometimes we think we live in a ‘Christian’ country.

The Bible says however that the Christian is to be different from and separate from society at large — that there is something ‘unique’ about those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ.

The Greek word for Church is ‘Ekklesia‘.  It literally means “an assembly ‘called out’ for a particular purpose or cause”.  And the N.T. writers use some 96 analogies of the church, which can be grouped into as many as 31 minor images and 4 major ones. Dr Stafford in his book, Theology for Disciples1 suggests that “The fellowship in faith” is a good overall figure of description for the church.  The N.T. uses words like the sanctified, the faithful, the justified, followers, disciples, the witnessing community, confessors, slaves, and friends to define it.  Christ calls the fellowship into existence as people respond to the Holy Spirit’s drawing them into a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ.

I would like to explore the other 3 major analogies, one at a time:

  1. The Body of Christ
  2. One New Humanity
  3. The People of God

You Are:

So this week we will look at The Body of Christ.

The main reference is found in I Corinthians 12:27,28You are Christ’s body– that’s who you are!  You must never forget this.  Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything.  You’re familiar with some of the parts that God has formed in his church, which is his ‘body’; apostles, prophets, teachers, miracle workers, healers, helpers, organizers, those who pray in tongues,” [MSG]. This is how our Lord is making himself known in the history between his first and second coming.

The church then is an organism of divine Grace.  As Believers minister to each other as well as to the surrounding community, they make the Grace of God real to both. [See John 17, and 13:34,35]

The assumption in the early church was that each person in the fellowship loved Jesus and was serious about being His follower.  And so they stuck together and worked at their relationship, which was based on Scripture and the direction of the Holy Spirit. [See Acts 2:37-ff]

But the early church also had its share of problems.  One problem was the dominant religious society each had come from. [See Galatians 1:6,7; 3:1-5]  The most part it was Judaism, with its rules, regulations, and the development of Doctrine set in place by the three main schools of thought- the Pharisees (“the Literalists”), the Sadducees (“the Pragmatists”) and the Hellenists (“the Accomodationists”).

Not very different from today.  Some want to take every word literally and they will go on forever quibbling over words [see Titus 3:9].  Others want to be practical– ‘nothing succeeds like success”.  And the prosperity cults and “name it-claim it” take off on their own.  After all, “God is on my side automatically, because I exist.”

Then there are those who accommodate every one and every doctrine and have concluded that ‘as long as you are sincere’ you are O.K. No one ought to be excluded from God’s heaven — a warm fuzzy place where everybody is right.

However, the Bible says that the gifts God has given to the church are the leaders “to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.” [Ephesians 4:12,13 MSG].  Notice that it is a developmental process.

And the early church had its problems. Paul describes the Corinthian Church’s ‘Love Feasts’ in I Cor 11:21 and 14:21,23.   These had some hungry and others drunk, and worship services that were competitions of manifestations.

What God wants is each member of the body, whether in a local assembly or within the framework of the whole universal family of God [all those who have put their faith and trust in Christ], functioning effectively with all of the rest. I’d like to share a note from Max Lucado’s book, No Wonder they call Him the Saviour2.  I believe it will help us past the periphery and get us into the centre of where we can function in the way God intended.

“Those selfish soldiers,” we smirk with our thumbs in lapels. “They were so close to the cross and yet so far from Christ.” And yet, are we so different?”2

1 Structure of discussion from Theology for Disciples, Gilbert Stafford, Warner Press 1996, pages 158-167. [return to text]
2 Lucado, Max, No wonder they call him the Saviour, Multnomah Press 1986. Chapter 24 “Close to the Cross, but far from Christ”. [return to text]
© 2000 D. H. Friesen

The Resurrection

“I am the Resurrection and the life, says the Lord; whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” John 11:25,26

Psalm 116:1-8
Epistle: Romans 8:6-11
O.T. Lesson: Ezekiel 37:1-14
The Gospel: John 11:17-27,41-45

As we prepare for Easter, one of the issues we have to address is the Resurrection of Jesus.   The problem started the moment it happened and is still an issue today.  The key feature of Christianity is the belief in the resurrection. Because of Jesus’ experience, we ourselves have to face the possibility of life beyond what we see.

The Jewish leaders proposed a way of handling the political fall-out of the resurrection on that first Easter by instructing the soldiers to start a rumour. They gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, ‘You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.”‘  So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed, [Matt 28:12,13,15].

A modern notion proposed is that Jesus fainted and revived in the coolness of the tomb (The ‘Swoon Theory’).  Another hypothesis is that the Roman soldiers moved the body.  One of the other theories proposed is the ‘Hallucinations Theory”- they just thought they saw Jesus.  However, each of these theories begs credulity in one form or the other1.

The reluctant disciples of Jesus struggled with the idea of Jesus’ resurrection, and at first were like those “from Missouri”- (“I won’t believe until you show me!”).  And the Bible records that only after Pentecost did they really have the courage to believe it. [see Acts 4:31].  After that, it didn’t matter what was done to them; they carried on boldly telling what they had experienced [see Acts 5:41,42].

The one we know as Saint Paul was a Jewish leader and a member of the Pharisee sect [a very strict conservative group] who was faced with a revelation of the Risen Lord. It dramatically changed his life and he became the foremost missionary of the Good News to the non-Jewish world of the first century [see Acts 9 and the rest of Acts].  The pattern has continued through time, and the history of the martyrs is a colourful story of pain, suffering, and death rather than accommodation or even compromise their faith and beliefs.  (For modern and historical information on martyrs, visit The Voice of the Martyrs website.)

Even in modern times, many have believed in the truth of the Power of God demonstrated in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; so much so, that they have taken the message to every corner of our world.  Often they will learn the language and construct a method of writing in order to give the message of the Good News in such a form that it could be taken to every corner of the earth in the native language of every person in the world2.

The Jewish people had a belief in resurrection and life after death, [not all, of course – see Mark 12:18] and as Jesus prepared Martha and Mary for the ‘Raising of Lazarus’ their brother, Jesus spoke of resurrection as being a part of His own character. “I am the Resurrection and the Life, [John 11:25].  In John 10:14-18 he also explained “I have authority to lay it [my life] down and authority to take it up again”, and then proceeded to do exactly that on the days  we call Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

But if this is just another story to you, the truth of the resurrection won’t do you any good.  The only way to demonstrate its reality is to put your belief into action.

I want to share with you a story.  Its based on fact, but could be told with variations by every one who has come to experience what the Apostle Paul calls “The power of the resurrection” [Phil 3:10, compare Romans 8:11].  Edith Burns3 had a habit of introducing herself, “Hello, my name is Edith Burns.  Do you believe in Easter?” Then she would explain the meaning of Easter, and many times people would respond to the Gospel.

Her doctor Will Phillips called her in one day, and with a heavy heart said “Edith, your lab report came back and it says you have cancer.  You are not going to live very long.”

“Why, Will Phillips,” was Edith’s reply, “Shame on you.  Why are you so sad?  Do you think God makes mistakes?  You have just told me I’m going to see my precious Lord Jesus, my husband, and my friends.  You have just told me that I am going to celebrate Easter forever, and here you are having difficulty giving me my ticket!”

She landed in the hospital, a few months later, just after New Years.  Everyone was exited about her except the head nurse Phyllis.  Phyllis had been a nurse in an army hospital.  She had seen it all and heard it all.  She was the original G.I. Jane.  She had been married three times; she was hard, cold, and did everything by the book.  To her, Edith was a “Religious Nut”.

When she walked into the room, Edith said with a smile, “Phyllis, God loves you and I love you, and I have been praying for you.  And I have asked God not to let me go home until you come into the family.”

One day Phyllis was drawn to Edith’s room like a magnet.  “You have asked everybody here the question, ‘Do you believe in Easter?’ but you have never asked me.”

“Phyllis, I wanted to many times, but God told me to wait until you asked, and now that you have asked…”

Easter Sunday, Phyllis came into work, did some of her duties, and went to the flower shop and got some Easter lilies to wish Edith a happy Easter.

There lay Edith, a sweet smile on her face, and her hands in her big black Bible…

Phyllis left Edith’s body walked out of the room and over to two student nurses.  “My name is Phyllis Cross.  Do you believe in Easter?”

1 Little, Paul E., Know What You Believe, Chicago, Inter-Varsity Press, 1968, chapter 4.  [return to sermon] also see McDowell, Josh. Evidence that Demands a Verdict, Here’s Life Publishing, 1979.  (Amazon.com has both Volume 1 and Volume 2 available.)

2 See Richardson, Don. Peace Child, Ventura Cal, Regal Books, 1974. [return to sermon]         See also Olsson, Bruce. Bruckho.

3E-mail story courtesy of Walt Seward. [return to sermon]

Reconciliation in Preparation for Easter

What does it take to be reconciled to God?



I am the light of the world, says the LORD; those who follow me will have the light of life. John 8:12

Scriptures: Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; I Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-41.

Month end statements and Income Tax filing get us involved in trying to make numbers add up.  We sweat over them and get frustrated and sometimes hire someone else to do it.  New Years and family reunions get us involved in considering another kind of reconciliation– that of relationships.  We look back and see hurt feelings, wrongs done, practical jokes that got out of hand, and recognize ‘something should be done’– whether or not anything happens.

The Bible is full of such stories and incidents, but I would like us to consider just a few.

The story in John 9 is a study of contrasts and potentials and reconciliation.

On the one hand you have the blind man– unable to function completely in society.  His condition was considered a punishment, and a just one at that.  And the man seems to have accepted the situation.

Jesus comes on the scene and is challenged by his disciples regarding the man’s condition.  Jesus uses the challenge to demonstrate who he really is (and what God’s program really is) by restoring the blind man’s sight.

The Pharisees have their own agenda, and because it does not fit the true agenda of the Father, Jesus challenges it.  God is in the business of restoring what has been broken apart, what has been damaged; the things that have begun to disintegrate and rot.  God wants to restore society to what it should be from His perspective.  The focus in society needs to be on God and bringing praise to him, and then the relationships with other people will be resolved and become all they are meant to be.

Some are like ‘lost sheep’.  They don’t know where they are and they don’t know where the Father is; they just know they can’t help themselves. They need help from someone else.  There are those like the ‘prodigal son’: they know where home is; they know the father.  But they will not come to Him until they get to the end of their own devices and have come to the realization that their own way is a dead-end street.  Very often they think that parents and God are hopelessly out-of-date and irrelevant to their situation and to life.

Peter the apostle was like that. Like a rebellious two-year old, his attitude was, I do it self, until Jesus showed him up at the trial.  Can you imagine the look on Jesus’ face when Peter SAW Jesus?  We know Peter was filled with remorse.  But in the end Jesus has a word for him.  Look at John 21:15-19: “Feed my lambs; take care of my sheep; feed my sheep.”  Peter couldn’t respond to the way Jesus asked him, because Jesus asked, “Do you truly love me?” [Agapeo] and Peter’s reply was “You know I love you.” [Phileo].  The difference in the two Greek words represents the difference between a self-abandoning, selfless love, and a deep friendship.   But notice that Jesus takes Peter from where he is, to where He knows Peter could be.

Romans 5:6-8 says that “at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us“.  II Cor 5:16-21 sums it up: ” … All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ… not counting men’s sins against them.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf; be reconciled to God…

What does it take to be reconciled to God?

  • Abandon your disbelief, and turn to Christ, trusting Him completely.  [The Amplified Bible explains believe as– trust in, cling to, rely on. John 3:16]
  • Abandon your hate and forgive others the way Christ has forgiven you– without strings attached. [Matthew 6:9, 18:21-35]
  • Abandon your grudges and hurt feelings, and respond with God’s love from hearts full of gratitude for the immense amount of forgiveness he has poured out on you.  [Colossians 3:12-17]
  • Abandon feelings of revenge and manipulation, and set aside your own agendas and plans to sacrificially serve.   [Ephesians 4:30-5:2]

Look at the contrast between Judas and Peter– both had disappointed Jesus, both had failed in following through on their commitment to Him.  One went out and committed suicide because he couldn’t face it; the other wept and came for forgiveness.

II Peter 3:9 says,  “He is not slow…but patient…not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

Will you allow God to reconcile you to Himself? For more information, go here.

© 2000 D. H. Friesen

The Hope of Easter

Jesus’ resurrection is the basis for a life in relationship, both now and beyond this existence.


Scripture focus- “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal  life.” [John 3:14,15.]

PSALM –– 33:18-22
EPISTLE — Romans 4:1-5,13-17
OT Lesson –Genesis 12:1-4a
Gospel Lesson –Matthew 17:1-9

The world today is in many ways an ugly place.  Hate, war, violence of all kinds justified in the name of religion or sport…. There seems to be a fundamental ‘rot’ in society…. Nature seems to be reacting with catastrophe after catastrophe….  Rust, and decay, disintegration, and obsolescence have made our planet a difficult place to live.   The ‘Psych’ wards are full, and there are not enough counselors and psychiatrists to meet all of the desperate needs of our disintegrating world.

Many people live in small communities like ours to avoid the “big cities” and all the crime, etc.  And then we have a murder!  We concern ourselves about health, and eat right and exercise, and someone gets leukæmia and dies.   Worry and fear tie us up in knots; we don’t know what to do.  We hope against hope that we will survive, but suicide ‘dogs’ our circle of friends, relatives, and acquaintances.

Our Scriptures today have been directing our attention to a feature figure from ‘yesteryear’.  A man who lived in an ungodly setting, but came to stand out as different.

The man Abram was seemingly a little shy and bashful, and very respectful of his family, and by the look of it did not push himself forward in society.  But he was a man who had put his faith and trust in God — Jehovah.  It would seem from his actions that he followed the ancient custom of recognizing the “Living God” in worship.  And so God came to him and invited Abram to join Him in His work, and His plan, a plan to provide a rescue for mankind in fulfillment of His promise to Adam and Eve after their sin. [“Abraham entered into what God was doing for him and that was the turning point.  He trusted God to set him right.” Romans 4:3 MSG]

God’s original plan was to create mankind to communicate with them and have a relationship with them as they enjoyed His creation.  But God is also Holy, and can only remain in a relationship where there is the capacity for a reciprocal, sinless, relationship.  Sin fundamentally changed all that: we now need someone to provide a way for us to get reconciled with God, in order to re-establish a relationship with him.

God provided that way in Jesus Christ.  His death cancelled the debt of sin we owe.  His resurrection is the basis for a life in relationship, both now and beyond this existence.

What then can we learn from Abraham’s experience?  Abraham survived the hardships, the famine, and the separation from his birthplace because he had hope.  He believed that God’s promises for an effective future were legitimate, whether he saw or understood it or not. And of course God gave the ultimate test when He asked Abraham to give up his son, Isaac: the son of the Promise. [Gen. 22, and condensed in Hebrews 11:17-19 “By faith Abraham… offered Isaac… Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death.”]   It was that model of faith that provided the Psalmist in Psalm 33 with the courage to express his confidence that God could be trusted in spite of circumstances.

Jesus’ disciples followed “The Messiah”, but were not always convinced that they were doing the right thing.  So once in a while God would encourage them.   One of those times was the incident mentioned on our Gospel reading: Matt 17:1-9.  Jesus was revealed to them in His radiance and Moses and Elijah as well.  Peter was “blown away” with it all.  But I believe it was one of the things that helped them to “hang in there” when it really got tough.

Jesus gave Nicodemus the strategy for having that kind of hope and trust and faith for himself — and it is for us as well.  Jesus said:

In the same way Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert1 so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up– and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life…  God didn’t do to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was.  He came to help, to put the world right again, anyone who trusts in him is acquitted.”[John 3:14-18 MSG]

Let’s look at Romans 4:13-16:

That famous promise God gave Abraham– that he and his children would possess the earth– was not given because of something Abraham did or would do.  It was based on God’s decision to put everything together for him, which Abraham then entered when he believed.  If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract!  That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal.  A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never collect.  But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise– and God’s promise at that– you can’t break it.  This is why the fulfillment of God’s promise depends entirely on trusting God and his way, and then simply embracing him and what he does.”[MSG]

Eternal life comes by faith- not based on our achievements but on His GRACE: the free gift of unmerited forgiveness.

Eternal life is real and it is for us to take by faith — despite the fact that we don’t have any ‘rights’ to it. So we need to:

  1. Admit that we need it.  [See Hebrews 11:6; I John 1:9]
  2. Believe God and trust him that what Christ did on the cross was adequate for everyone and for every sin and wrong.  [See Heb 7:25; John 3:17; I John 2:2]
  3. Commit ourselves to him completely leaving the results and consequences to him. [Proverbs 3:5,6; Hebrews 4:14-16; I John 2:15-17]
  4. And enjoy an abundant, full, complete life here and eternal life in the ‘here-after’. [See John 10:10]

© 2000 D. H. Friesen

Jesus Saves

Something has gone terribly wrong. Something must be done about it.


The ‘Spiritual’ asks the rhetorical question: “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Our first reaction is usually “Of course not!”, or  “I would never do something like that!”, or “NO WAY”!   But there is that little “niggle” in our hearts that says, “I’m not so sure”.  And we struggle with the idea, and usually do a poor job of justifying ourselves. There is something in “them” that we recognize in ourselves.

The story is told of a Jewish witness at the Nuremberg trials who, when faced with the man responsible for implementing the “Jewish Solution”, broke down and wept.  When he was asked why he was so overcome, he said “I see me in his eyes”.  We sometimes have said, “But for the grace of God — there go I”.

Are we guilty of having crucified Jesus? For Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the temptation was to choose independence — an independence from God, attempting to be on a parallel with Him.  “That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone, but the extent of the disturbance was not clear until God spelled it out in detail to Moses”  [Romans 5:13 MSG].  Paul called himself the “Chief of sinners”.  Richard Neuhaus writes:

About the chief of sinners I don’t know, but what I know about sinners I know chiefly about me.  We did not mean to do the deed, of course.  What we have done wrong– they seemed, or mostly seemed, small things at the time.  The word of encouragement withheld, the touch of kindness not given, the visit not made, the trust betrayed, the cutting remark so clever and so cruel, the illicit sexual desire so generously entertained, the angry answer, the surge of resentment at being slighted, the time we thought a lie would do no harm. It is such a long and tedious list of little things.  Surely not too much should be made of it, we thought to ourselves.  But now it has come to this.  It had come to the cross.  All the trespasses of all the people of all time have gravitated here, to the killing grounds of Calvary. [Neuhaus, p. 33]

Paul wrote “All have sinned” [Romans 3:23]. And Solzenitsyn declared, “the line between good and evil runs through every human heart” [Gulag Archipelago].

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way“.  But notice the wonderful next statement: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6].  So “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all…. ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven there is no longer any sacrifice for sin” [Hebrews 10:10,17,18].  Because “Jesus Christ the righteous One… is the atoning sacrifice for our sins and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” [I John 1:1,2].

The word ‘Atonement’ could be explained as At-one-ment.  That is, bringing back into fellowship/relationship, or reconciliation.

I’d like to share with you what Richard John Neuhaus says are 4 truths at the heart of ‘Atonement’. [Neuhaus, p.33, 34]

  1. Something is terribly wrong.  When we seriously looked at ourselves (before we gave our lives to God), we found we were like the prodigal son — in a distant land far from home.  God was not near.
  2. Whatever the measure of our guilt, we are responsible for the death of Christ.  Rabbi Hershel used to say, “Some are guilty — all are responsible.”  In order for Christ’s death to be adequate for us, we have to admit that our sins nailed Christ to the cross.
  3. Something needs to be done about it.  We react intuitively — Justice must be done!  The modern world has us approach the issue of guilt from two angles.
    1. One is the “Gospel” of Positive Thinking. You can blame your parents, your genetic make-up, society, the other guy: just not yourself! After all, guilt can put you in the ‘rubber room’! “If you think positively, all of those negatives will leave and you’ll be fine.”
    2. The other tactic is to do the “stiff upper lip”. “I’ll get through it”. “Real men never cry!” “Take your lumps!” “Time heals!” “You’ll get over it!”
      However “both of these options are worse than useless. They are obscene.” It is an attempt to “make peace with the evil they know” [Neuhaus,p.34].

4. Something must be done about what has gone wrong.  Only we cannot do it! Neither “individually or as the human race together can we make up for one innocent child tortured and killed.  How can we make up for Auschwitz, or ‘the killing fields’ of Cambodia”,  or the atrocities of our modern era? [Neuhaus, p.34].

Only someone, who was in no way responsible for the wrongs, acting out of pure love and grace, could  right the wrong and adequately serve justice.  Jesus said “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… The reason the Father loves me is that I lay down my life… I lay it down of my own accord” [John 10:11, 17,18].

And He can be depended on to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.”  [And it is perfectly proper for God to do this for us because Christ died to wash away our sins.] [I John 1:9 LB]  “Work hard for sin your whole life — and your pension is death.  But God’s gift is, real life, eternal life, delivered by Jesus, our Master.” [Romans 6:23 MSG]


  1. MSG- Peterson, Eugene. The Message, NavPress Publishing Group, 1995.
  2. LB- Taylor,Kenneth. Living Bible, Tyndale House, 1971.  (Out of Print.  New Living Translation available from Amazon.com)
  3. Neuhaus, Richard John. “Father Forgive Them”. First Things, March 2000, Number 101.
  4. Solzhenitsyn, Aleksandr Isayevich.  Gulag Archipelago. Trans. Thomas P. Whitney, Harper and Row, 1974.

© 2000 D. H. Friesen

Faithful in the Meantime

We are to go out into the world, being salt and light, until he returns.

[Concluding the Apostles’ Creed]
OT Lesson   Isaiah 52:7-10
NT lesson   Revelation 21:1-7

“The resurrection of the body and the Life Everlasting AMEN.”

“God is at work” and as He has “pursued a loving relationship that’s real and personal” [1. Blackaby, Henry T., Experiencing God, Nashville, LifeWay Press 1989] — we have responded.   We’ve invited Jesus Christ into our lives and have discovered that it has changed us.  The Holy Spirit is working to develop the character of Jesus Christ in our lives.

The Apostle John wrote in John 1:12,13 “To those who believed in His name He gave the right to become children of God… born of God.”  And the Apostle Paul writes in Eph. 1:5 that we are “adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ.  And “having believed, you are marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit who is the deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” [Eph. 1:13b, 14].

Humanity started out as perfect — without defect– complete– and capable of choice and responsibility. As a result of the sin of Adam and Eve all nature was ‘cursed’ [see Gen. 3] Weeds would make agriculture difficult– antagonism between humans and animals would make living hazardous and the pain of childbirth would remind us that sin hurts.

God had said that when “you eat of it (that is the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) you will surely die.” [Gen 2: 17]. And so from that point on the dying-disintegration.  Cells are dying as well as being reproduced and from adulthood on the dying goes faster than the reproduction.   But God wants to restore our bodies as well as us to Himself.  The “resurrection is God’s counter-fulfillment of a plan whereby He might redeem what had been lost in Eden” [2. Lockerbie, D. Bruce, The Apostles’ Creed, Wheaton, Victor Books 1977, p.130]

The Old Testament had introduced the concept of resurrection in Isaiah 26:19: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy.  Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.” And so in I Corinthians 15, Paul presents the logical arguments, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the fulfillment of that passage in the model of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So when Christ returns, our bodies will be changed and we will become like Christ [I John 2:3] — only in a changed body could we enjoy God forever “so in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye … we will be changed.” [see I Cor. 15:50-54].  And Paul concludes that because of these facts we can continue to do the work of the ministry God has given us in spite of the circumstances, “Because you know your labour in the Lord is not in vain.”  [I Cor 15:58] This ‘resurrection’ has the purpose of preparing us for the “Life Everlasting.” This ‘Eternal Life’ is not merely an extension of our existence related to time.  It has the connotation of “Outside of time” [3. McGrath, Alister, I Believe, Illinois, InterVarsity Press,1997] The flow of time as we know it here will no longer exist.  It is sometimes expressed as “a forever NOW”.   What it specifically will look like is beyond our ‘ken’ but it is figuratively described as this in a passage in the Revelation.  “Now the dwelling of God is with men and he will live with them, they will be his people.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things has passed away.”  [Rev 21: 3,4]

I can hear some people rolling their eyes and saying “So what!  That’s a ‘someday’ thing.  What about the here and now?  What difference does it make now?” I believe Barry Callen summarizes it well in the title to his book on the “End Time”.  He calls it “Faithful in the Meantime.” [4. Callen, Barry, Faithful in the Meantime, Napanee, Evangel Publishing House, 1997.]   He writes:

“The final judgment will establish as enduring reality the nature of the relationship with Christ that was chosen in this life… At death the burden of freedom is lifted; the wealth of freedom spent… Our individual life stories in this present world are significant and have permanent implications in the final unfolding of the divine story” [Callen,  255]

In II Peter 3 [see MSG], the apostle challenges us and reassures us that God is faithful and that His coming is seemingly delayed only in that He wants everyone to respond to Him so that no one will be “lost”.   Not all will respond, but God doesn’t want to lose any more people than absolutely necessary.

So we are to “Go into all the world and preach the ‘Good News’ (of Salvation) to all creation” [Mark 16:15], and  “make disciples, baptizing them, … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  [Mat 28:19,20]   We are to be Salt in order to make society taste better and last longer and to ‘Shine’ out our “Light” so that every one can get a clear picture of God and what He’s done for us and can do for everyone [see Matt 5:13-16].  Let us be “Faithful In the Meantime”.




Other resources used:

  1. Alister McGrath, I Believe — Exploring the Apostles’ Creed, Illinois, InterVarsity Press, 1997.
  2. D. Bruce Lockerbie, The Apostles’ Creed: Do You Really Believe It?  Wheaton, SP Publications Inc., 1977.
  3. Holy Bible, New International Version. International Bible Society, 1984.
  4. Eugene Peterson. The Message, Colorado, Navpress, 1993.
  5. Gilbert Staford. Theology for Disciples, Anderson, Warner Press, 1996.

©2000 D H Friesen