Love in the Local Church
When we think about what it means to love each other in the local church, we should not think, “This means that I show up for people when it works for me.” That view is both narrow and shallow. Rather, we should think, “This means that I am basically committed to each one of God’s people here, to show Christ to them and grow in the truth with them, through thick and thin.”
We love each other and cherish the fellowship of God’s people.
Love isn’t a feeling.
Recently, Melissa and I were mocking a lady on television who was talking about knowing a certain man was “the one” because of feelings. That stuff makes for good cinema, but not for good living. If we were committed to those we should love only when we felt like it — when circumstances were just right and when our hearts were going pitter-patter in just the right way — we would not be practicing genuine love and we would be in disobedience to God’s instruction for our lives.
Love is not something we fall into (or out of). Love is not a tingling or blissful sensation. Love is not an undefinable phenomenon that basically exists to make us happy.
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In Case With Global Implications, Finland Puts Christians on Trial for Their FaithBy Joy Pullmann — 2 years ago
Many dozens of top religious leaders across the world have formally raised their concerns with Rasanen and Pohjola’s prosecution to the Finnish government and the United Nations. Several U.S. members of Congress have also asked U.S. agencies to take action against Finland for these human rights abuses.
Juhana Pohjola wouldn’t be cast to play his own part if Hollywood made a movie about a bishop put on trial for his faith. The Finnish pastor has inherited a place in the church of Martin Luther, but it appears none of Luther’s pugnacity or vitriol.
In person, Pohjola, 49, is forthright but unassuming, and gentle. Stereotypically, the Finn is thin and tall. He often pauses while speaking to carefully consider his next words. He listens attentively to others with far less impressive resumes.
In more than two decades as a pastor, Pohjola has ministered to congregations as small as 30. He has spent his life building a network of faithful churches across Finland, many of which started with a few people gathered for prayer, Bible study, hymn-singing—and communion, if they can get a pastor. In an in-person interview with The Federalist, Pohjola urged fellow Christian leaders to be willing to seek out “one lost sheep” instead of crowds and acclaim.
This is the man who appears to be the first in the post-Soviet Union West to be brought up on criminal charges for preaching the Christian message as it has been established for thousands of years. Also charged in the case that goes to trial on January 24 is Pohjola’s fellow Lutheran and a Finnish member of Parliament, Paivi Rasanen.
Rasanen’s alleged crimes in a country that claims to guarantee freedom of speech and religion include tweeting a picture of a Bible verse. Potential penalties if they are convicted include fines and up to two years in prison.
Finnish Authorities: The Bible Is Hate Speech
Rasanen and Pohjola are being charged with “hate speech” for respectively writing and publishing a 24-page 2004 booklet that explains basic Christian theology about sex and marriage, which reserves sex exclusively for within marriage, which can only consist of one man and one woman, for life. The Finnish prosecutor claims centuries-old Christian teachings about sex “incite hatred” and violate legal preferences for government-privileged identity groups.
Writer Rod Dreher pointed out the witch hunt nature of this prosecution: “Räsänen wrote that pamphlet seven years before LGBT was added to the national hate-speech law as a protected class. She was investigated once before for the pamphlet, and cleared — but now she’s going to undergo another interrogation.”
Rasanen and Pohjola both have adamantly affirmed “the divinely given dignity, value, and human rights of all, including all who identify with the LGBTQ community.” Christian theology teaches that all human beings are precious, as all are made in God’s image and offered eternal life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In advance of the trial, Rasanen and Pohjola have been interrogated by police for hours about their theology. Pohjola told me in the interrogation police treated Christian beliefs as thought crimes. In a statement, Rasanen noted that the police publicly admitted their interpretation of Finland’s law would make publishing the Bible a hate crime.
“It is impossible for me to think that the classical Christian views and the doctrine of the majority of denominations would become illegal. The question here is about the core of Christian faith; how a person gets saved into unity with God and into everlasting life though the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus. Therefore, it is crucial to also talk about the nature of sin,” Rasanen told Dreher. “As we are living in a democratic country, we must be able to disagree and express our disagreement. We have to be able to cope with speech that we feel insults our feelings. Many questions are so debatable and contradictory that we have to have the possibility of discussing. Otherwise the development is towards a totalitarian system, with only one correct view.”
Major International Implications
Humans rights lawyer Paul Coleman, who spoke to The Federalist from his Alliance Defending Freedom International office in Vienna, Austria, says Pohjola and Rasanen’s cases are a “canary in the coalmine” for freedom of speech across the West. ADF International is providing legal support for Pohjola and Rasanen’s cases.
“Although all European countries have these hate speech laws, and these hate speech laws are increasingly being used against citizens for things that they say, this is the first time we’ve really seen Christians face criminal prosecution for explaining their biblical views,” Coleman said. “…It’s unprecedented. We’ve not seen attacks on free speech on this level in Europe, and that’s why they are extremely important cases, not just for the people of Finland and Paivi Rasanen and the bishop themselves, but for all of Europe. If this is upheld in one jurisdiction, we will no doubt see it in other jurisdictions as well.”
The Resurrection and the Life: Our Risen Savior and Our Certain HopeBy Mitch Chase — 1 month ago
Because Jesus lives, death doesn’t stand a chance. The Son of Man has all authority in heaven and on earth, and the tombs answer to him. When the Lord returns, death shall be no more. We have this hope because we are united to Christ by faith. In Christ we will rise to experience what the tree of life held out for us: glorified bodily life.
In the beginning there was life—and so shall the end be. The power of God and his faithfulness to every promise ensure the triumph of life over death. This is the Christian hope of resurrection, or the raising and glorifying of our bodies.
The Bible has much to teach us about this glorious hope. In the following sections, we will meditate on bodily resurrection in several ways. We will see how the Old Testament authors taught God’s death-defeating power. We will notice how the defeat of death will establish what God designed for his image-bearers: immortal physical life. And we will rejoice in the gospel news that Jesus has been raised from the dead, inaugurating bodily life without end—a life that will belong to all who are united to him.
Martha’s Words About Resurrection
Near the end of Jesus’s public ministry, his friend Lazarus died (John 11:14). Even though Jesus learned earlier that Lazarus was ill, he did not make a trip to see him. He waited, but not because of callousness or busyness or misunderstanding. As we can infer from John 11:3–4, Jesus planned to show the glory of God in what happened next. For that reason, Lazarus would spend four days in the tomb when Jesus finally showed (John 11:17).
Martha met with Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). Jesus’s reputation as a miracle-worker preceded wherever he traveled those days. Martha knew that Jesus could have healed Lazarus’s illness. Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again” (11:23).
Faithful Jews had a concept of bodily resurrection because of what the Old Testament authors taught. This understanding is why Martha said, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24). There she referred to her brother’s future bodily resurrection. The dead would one day rise, and Lazarus would be among them. This she believed, as she had been taught.
Waking from the Dust
A conviction in the Four Gospels that the dead would rise was based on God’s revelation in the Old Testament. In the clearest expression of resurrection hope in the Old Testament, Daniel 12:2 says, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Pictured as waking from bodily sleep, the dead will awake from the dust and live.
The language of dust takes us back to Genesis 2–3. The Lord pronounced judgments and consequences to the serpent and to the human couple, and Adam heard these words: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).
Being “taken” from the dust recalls the creation of Adam, where the very first instance of “dust” is used. The Lord “formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7). Because of the words in Genesis 3:19, however, the dust signifies not just Adam’s life; he “shall return” to the dust, which means death. Like Adam, going to the dust is our earthly end. But as Daniel 12:2 reminds us, life will once again come from the dust. In Genesis 2, the granting of life was creation. In Daniel 12, the granting of life will be resurrection. At death, we go to the dust, but we do not go there to stay.
Made for Embodied Life
Bodily resurrection is what will accomplish God’s design for his image-bearers: embodied life with him. When God made Adam, the man was not a disembodied spirit who was later given a body. God created Adam as an embodied creature, so the only kind of life Adam knew was embodied. Death disrupts bodily life because the body dies even as the soul lives. Resurrection is the recovery of God’s design because the body is raised and re-united to the soul.
We were made for unending bodily life. Consider, as evidence, the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. God put the tree of life in the midst of the garden (Gen. 2:9). And when God exiled Adam from Eden, he was barring Adam from the tree of life, “lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever” (3:22). The tree of life represented immortal physicality. The question for God’s image-bearers, then, is whether we will ever experience what the tree of life held out. The answer is yes: through bodily resurrection, we will, as Daniel 12 puts it, “awake” from the dust unto embodied immortality.
As we affirm the kind of life God created us for and will raise us to receive, we can discern more of what our Christian hope entails. Our ultimate hope is not to die and leave this world as mere souls. Paul says that at death, believers are absent from the body and present with the Lord in heaven (2 Cor. 5:6–8). To die is gain indeed (Phil. 1:21). But if our future was only disembodied life with God, then death would hold our bodies in its cords forever.
Paul, speaking about our earthly bodies, told the Corinthians, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling” (2 Cor. 5:2). Our earthly tent—marked with moans and groans—will be surpassed by our heavenly dwelling, our risen body. God is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory (4:17). And if we knew the glorious future of embodied life that will be ours, we would long for it like Paul did. The body’s “light momentary affliction” can’t compare to the body’s future glory (4:17–18).
Proving a Staggering Claim
When Martha told Jesus that Lazarus “will rise again in the resurrection on the last day” (John 11:24), she was correctly understanding the Old Testament hope of God’s power delivering the bodies of his people from the cords of death. But she probably wasn’t prepared for Jesus’s response. He said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
The Downfall of the Fruitless CityBy Kendall Lankford — 11 months ago
In Jesus’ final week, He enters the fruitless city and they offer Him only leaves. He also goes to the fruitless temple, that lies rotting in rebellion. On the second day, He curses a fruitless tree as a demonstration of what will soon happen to Jerusalem. Then, as Jesus ends His day in the city, He tells the story of a fruitless vineyard that will be torn down, replanted, and given to a people who will care for it.
How to Walk Up to a Six-Fingered Doctrine
When the revenge-seeking Spaniard from Princess Bride uttered his most famous lines: “I will go up to the six-fingered man and say, Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” there was more than an hour and twenty minutes of storyline underpinning that scene. From his motive for revenge atop the cliffs of insanity to his rants and flailing about with his father’s sword in the thieves’ forest, much happens in Inigo’s life that makes his signature scene all the more important. Without that critical context, killing Rugen may appear like nothing more than a frivolous crime of passion.
The same is true when we consider the topic of eschatology. Before we can understand those prickly end-times concepts coming out of Matthew 24 (like the great tribulation, the rapture, and the end of the age) we must first go back and understand the context that is underpinning those statements. We must understand that Matthew is telling the story of the long-awaited Jewish King, who as Malachi foretold would come to set up His never-ending empire here on earth. Those who accept His rule would live forever in His Kingdom. Those who oppose Him, beginning with Jerusalem, would be put under His feet and crushed. If we do not understand that story, we will miss every eschatological point the book is making.
So with that, let us continue along in Matthew, as we seek to understand the end times.
Final Week: The Saga Comes to Jerusalem
Nearly a thousand years before the events in Matthew, the city awoke to the sounds of laughter, worship, and joy. The nations (as God intended) had been coming, streaming into Jerusalem, to see if what they had heard was true. They were coming to see the radiance and power of Israel’s God. They wanted to see the temple where He visibly reigned from, the city that was His footstool, and the wise vice-regent He appointed to sit upon her throne, King Solomon.
Now, a thousand years later, the line of Davidic kings had been completely snuffed out. The temple, which had already been destroyed once before, had become a whitewashed tomb of dead pharisaical religion. The prophet who was called to announce the inauguration of God’s Kingdom had been beheaded by the puppet king, Herod. And, as Malachi warned, the love of God was at an all-time low among the increasingly pagan Jews.
By the time we arrive at Matthew’s Gospel, the rot had sunk so deep into the soul of Judah, that the wound was incurable. Josephus, the Jewish historian, describes this era and its people, highlighting the inevitability of God’s judgment soon to come. He tells us:
And here I cannot refrain from expressing what my feelings suggest. I am of the opinion, that had the Romans deferred the punishment of these wretches, either the earth would have opened and swallowed up the city, or it would have been swept away by a deluge, or have shared the thunderbolts of the land of Sodom. For it produced a race far more ungodly than those who were thus visited. For through the desperate madness of these men the whole nation was involved in their ruin.
By the time of the New Testament, the city of Jerusalem was so odious to God, that she couldn’t even detect her own moral stench. With lying lips, and hearts far from God (Matthew 15:8-9), she not only persisted in her murderous rage (Matthew 14:1-12; 23:29-33), but she was increasingly opposed to God’s own Son. As a result, Jesus tells His disciples that the keys of God’s Kingdom would be removed from her (Matthew 16:13-20) and that some of them would be alive to see her downfall (Matthew 16:28).
When Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, during His triumphal entry in AD 30, it was surely for the salvation of His people. But, as Malachi predicted, He also came for the judgment and destruction of Jerusalem.
In the weeks ahead, we will narrow our focus to the final week of Jesus’ life and look at the events happening in Matthew chapters 21-24. In these chapters, we will see how Jerusalem will be punished for her crimes against God and we will gain a clearer understanding of eschatology than we have ever had before. Today, we will focus on Matthew 21 and the cursed city of Jerusalem.
Day 1: A Procession of Joy and Judgment
Matthew 21 opens with Jesus, the true Davidic King, preparing to ride into the royal city on the back of a donkey. At that time, kings would only ride upon horses if they were going out to war. But, if they approached a city in peace, they would ride on a far less threatening mode of transportation, which was the mule or a donkey.
This is especially true during the Israelite changing of the guard ceremonies that became a tradition at the time of David. Per David’s command, Solomon (his son) would be anointed for the office with oil by the High Priest of Israel. He would then ride into the capital city on the back of a donkey, and as he rode a procession of important people would follow him singing and chanting “Long live the King”. By the time he and the procession arrived at the city of Jerusalem, where Solomon would sit upon his father’s throne, the entire city was in a joyful uproar (1 Kings 1:38-40).
Since John tells us that Jesus was anointed with oil just before His triumphal entry (John 12:1-8) and since Luke tells us that He rode into the city with a crowd of people singing “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord;” (Luke 19:37-38), and since Matthew tells us that the city was stirred up upon His arrival (Matthew 21:10) there can be no doubt Jesus was coming as King to set up His Kingdom. Whether the people understood the ramifications of His coming or not, matters very little. Jesus saw Himself as the true Solomon, the true son of David, who was coming to establish His Kingdom.
If there was any doubt about this interpretation, Matthew Himself clears it up for us, by quoting from Zechariah 9:9, which says:
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
From this quotation alone we can see how Jesus is the long-awaited messianic King. He is the one who came to Jerusalem that day, in order to provide salvation for His people and to bring them into His Kingdom of peace. But, what we must not miss, is how the context of Zechariah 9 also says much about this King coming in judgment.