Careless Worship

October 2, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

For many Christians, worship has lost its significance. It no longer occupies a major place in the lives of many believers.  Don’t get me wrong; we still go through the motions. We still attend church (occasionally). We still consider ourselves devout followers of Jesus. Yet sadly, we have allowed the “rituals” of worship to replace the sincerity of worship.

Here are a few stinging indictments that demonstrate how careless our worship has become…

  • We make promises to God that we don’t keep.
  • We place more emphasis on how worship is done than on who we are worshipping.
  • We meet with God’s people infrequently.
  • We talk about God instead of listening to God.
  • We are too busy to spend quality time with the Lord.
  • We worship physically, but our minds are somewhere else.

Obviously, those are generalized statements, and I do not mean to insinuate that all Christ followers are guilty of such negligence.   Yet, I must confess that periodically I find them to be true in my life. If I am not careful, my worship tends to be more about community than it does about the Trinity. I tend to do things out of habit and not because of holiness. My worship loses its zenith, its zeal and its zest.

To be honest, we are not the first generation to commit this grievous error.   The Old Testament repeatedly demonstrates the carelessness of Israel’s worship.

I Samuel 15:22 – Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.

Proverbs 15:8 – The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to Him.

Hosea 6:6 – For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

Let me state that the answer is not to discontinue the “sacrifices” and “burnt offerings.” God is not telling us to stop worshipping. His admonition is for us to examine the motive and the attitude of our worship. How do we view God? Why do we worship? Are we listening to Him?

On Sunday we will develop this topic further as we examine reverent worship from Ecclesiastes 5:1-7. Here are a few admonitions, though, that will enable us to worship sincerely and seriously.

1. Get a fresh glimpse of WHO God is.

Quite frankly our view of worship has diminished because our view of God has diminished. We’ve lost the sense of reverential fear and awe for a holy God. We desperately need a fresh glimpse of the majesty, the character and the holiness of God.

That certainly happened to Isaiah. In the first part of Isaiah’s prophecy he is railing on the Israelites for their infidelity. Then in chapter six, Isaiah catches a fresh glimpse of God. He stops pronouncing woes on the Israelites and declares them upon himself.

Isaiah 6:5 – And I said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”

The apostle John had the same experience. During Jesus’ earthly life he was often characterized as the disciple that Jesus loved. Yet, in Revelation one he catches a vision of Jesus in all His glory. John’s response is unexpected.

Revelation 1:17 – When I saw Him, I fell at His fee as though dead.

Those are tremendous examples for us! Is your view of Jesus one of holiness or helpfulness? Do you approach Him as the supreme object of your worship or the practical supplier of your needs? You see, how we view Him greatly affects how we worship Him.

2. Get a fresh glimpse of HOW God is to be worshipped.

It is so easy for us to have incorrect views of worship. Human nature motivates us to worship either legalistically or selfishly. Those who are legalistic worship out of obligation. Those who are selfish worship out of ambition. Yet, God desires our approach to Him not be motivated by compulsion or by egotism.   Neither attitude pleases God.

In John 4:24 Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “God is a Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.”

The English word “worship” was originally spelled “worthship.”   It acknowledged the worth of the object worshipped.  More than anything else, our worship should acknowledge the fact that God alone is worthy. He is awesome. He deserves our worship no matter if He ever saves us, blesses us or gives us what we want or need. Worship is about Him and not us.

So this weekend, let’s examine our worship. Let’s ask God to give us a fresh glimpse of WHO He is and HOW He desires to be adored.

Empowered to Impact Our Community

September 22, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

Neighborhood Outreach

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. 

In Acts 1:8 Jesus gave His disciples a final exhortation before He ascended up into Heaven.  This divine challenge is often referred to as the Great Commission and is seen as a continuation of Matthew 28:18-20.  Unfortunately, though, the grammatical construction of the verse does not lend itself to being a command.  Jesus is not directing His disciples to do something.  Rather, He is describing what will happen when they are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Thus, Acts 1:8 is not a command.  It is a conclusion!

The Holy Spirit inspires and empowers believers to be living witnesses of Jesus Christ.  Notice that such a calling begins in their local community.  This verse is often used in reference to global missions, but the reality is that this empowerment begins at home.  In other words, our community should be different because we are different.

With that truth in mind, come and join us this Saturday as we demonstrate the love of Jesus to our community.  No matter what your talents or passions are, there is something for everyone to do (cut grass, pray for families, serve hot dogs, meet our neighbors, etc.)  Every member of HCC can be involved.  Let’s be living witnesses of Jesus’ love and the power of the Holy Spirit.  See you Saturday!

 

The Pursuit

September 9, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

Our Fall Sermon Series has us on a journey through the book of Ecclesiastes.   In this ancient book Solomon lays out man’s inclination to chase after the wrong things (wisdom, pleasure, wealth, work, power, etc.).   Unfortunately, time has not corrected our egotistical propensities. 3,000 years later we are still looking for happiness in all of the wrong places. We are pursuing things that will bring neither personal satisfaction nor divine approval.

How, then, can we make sure, like Solomon’s, our pursuit does not end in futility? How can we guarantee that we are pursuing holiness instead of happiness? Here are a few practical steps you can take to evaluate your personal pursuit.

1. Examine your priorities

Quite honestly, this personal evaluation can be deceptive. It is easy for a person to believe that his priorities are in line, when in reality they are out of whack.  Here are a few introspective questions. Please answer them honestly or they will not reflect the truthfulness of what is important to you.

  • How do you spend your time?

How much time do you spend reading God’s Word? How frequently do you find yourself running to God in prayer?   How important is your meeting together with other believers? How much of your day is dedicated to your pursuit of God?

Now, I understand that all of us have family and work obligations. Unless you live secluded in a monastery, there is no way anyone can search for God 24/7. Nevertheless, if you are too busy to seek God, you are too busy. Jesus said, “What profit is it if a man gains the whole world, yet loses His own soul?”

  • How do you spend your money?

Look at your bank statement. Evaluate your budget. How you spend your money demonstrates what is truly important to you.

I am often amazed at the tendency of believers to spend, spend and keep spending. Having a disposable income doesn’t mean that I have the right to continually dispose of it on things that will wear out, fade away or last momentarily.   Child of God, you have been financially blessed so that you can be a blessing. God has not given to you so that you can accumulate more things. He has financially blessed you so that you can be a channel of provision to others and to the work of God.

Luke 12:34 states, “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”

2. Examine your passions

What is it that motivates you? What excites you? Do you look forward to Sunday as much as you do Friday night? Does worship get you as “pumped up” as a good football game?

You see, your passions are a wonderful indication of what is truly important to you. If you are not passionate about growing in your spiritual walk, meeting together with God’s people and using your talents in the Lord’s service, then you are chasing after the wind. You are pursuing the wrong things.

Here is what you need to do…

  • Ask the Lord to impassion you for WHAT impassions Him.

Jeremiah 29:13 states, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” The simple truth is that whenever we decide to fall in love with Jesus and make Him the most important person in our life, God gives us a fresh, passionate and obsessive love for Him.

  • Ask the Lord to impassion you for those WHO impassion Him.

Quite frankly, whenever we fall in love with Jesus, whenever we love what He loves and whom He loves, we will be moved with compassion. Like Jesus, we will love the unlovely. Like Jesus we will invest our time, talents and treasures in the lives of others.

3. Examine your perspective

Often, we allow the hardships of life to affect our perspective. As Solomon states, we live life with an under the Sun perspective. Pursuing God, though, changes your perspective. You search for the Kingdom of God first (Matthew 6:33). You seek the things that are above and not the things of the earth (Colossians 3:1). Your perspective completely changes.

So, what are you pursuing? Let me challenge you to stop chasing after the wind, something that you will never be able to grasp.   Pursue Jesus! Then you will truly find the holiness and meaning that only Jesus can offer.

Happiness or Holiness?

August 26, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

We live in a “happy” focused society. By that I mean everyone is striving for happiness. We are repeatedly told that we deserve to be happy and that God wants us to be happy. If you are not happy, make whatever changes necessary to make your life a happier one. After all, life is too short not to be happy.

All of that sounds terrific, except God never promised to make us happy. I know that goes against conventional thought, and it might take a few moments for that truth to sink in. But the truth is that God in His Word never promises, guarantees or plans for your happiness. As a matter of fact, your happiness is not even His number one priority.

  1. The biblical definition of “happiness” does not match our expectations of happiness.

The term “happiness” is defined as a state of wellbeing. It often is representative of living the good life, of a life free from problems and filled with security.   To many people it speaks of financial prosperity, familial harmony and physical health.   Is that what the Bible promises us though?

Interestingly, the word “happy” is only found some thirty times in the Bible – Eighteen times in the Old Testament and approximately ten times in the New Testament.   Never does it denote wealth, health or relational harmony. It is almost always translated “blessed.” Thus, from God’s point of view our happiness has much more to do with His blessing than with our prosperity and freedom from problems.

  1. We are commanded to be holy, not happy

In both Leviticus 11 and I Peter 1, we are commanded to be holy. He says, “You must be holy for I am holy.” He doesn’t say, “You must be happy for I am happy.” This mandate for holiness is not based upon a capricious desire. Rather, it is founded upon the character of God. Consequently, His holiness should prompt us to live a life that is set apart for godliness.

God is much more interested in our holiness than in our happiness.   It is also important to note, though, that the two do not need to be exclusive of one another. In other words, you can be holy and happy at the same time. But, if God has His druthers, He would much rather we be holy.

  1. God uses the “happenings” of our lives to propel us towards holy living

It was C.S. Lewis that made the now famous quote, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” In other words, God uses the negative experiences of life, the things that seemingly rob us of our happiness to speak to us.   That is why James encourages us to consider trials as opportunities for great joy (James 1:2). That is why Paul tells us that God uses “all things” to work for our good (Romans 8:28).   Yes the happenings of our life happen for a purpose. God is working in us to make us more like Him.

  1. God promises joy and peace instead of happiness

Repeatedly, in the book of John Jesus promises joy and peace to His followers…

John 14:27 – Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 15:11 – I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!

John 16:33 – – I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

Happiness is external while joy and peace are internal. Happiness is temporary while joy and peace are permanent. Happiness is dependent upon the circumstances of life while joy and peace are only dependent on the provision of the Holy Spirit.

Be assured that while holiness can produce happiness, happiness cannot produce holiness. So, instead of praying that God would make you happy, let me challenge you to pray that God would make you holy. The simple truth is that the more we become like Jesus, the happier we will be.

Quit Trying to be Good Enough!

August 5, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

From my earliest childhood I remember hearing the message of the Gospel. Both at home and at church, the truth that Jesus died on the cross, was buried and rose again was pounded into my little head and heart. As a result, at the young age of five, I gave my life to Jesus. A few months later, I was baptized. Years later, I understood the theological implications of what had taken place. Through the transforming message of the Gospel, I was justified. My salvation was eternally secure.

Unfortunately, though, that is where the Gospel ended. As important as the Good News of Jesus’ death was for my salvation, the rest was up to me. Or, so I thought. For many years, I erroneously believed that my spiritual growth was my responsibility. After all, God had given us a list of rules, and it was my responsibility to keep them, right? Thus, my sanctification was directly connected to my ability to do good.

Man was I wrong! For years, I lived a frustrated life. Now, don’t get me wrong. Thankfully I never went off the deep end into a life of sin and shame. Yet, I also never experienced the equipping power that only comes from the Holy Spirit working out the Gospel in my life. I worked really hard, too hard, at living a spiritual life. Is that what God wants for us, though? Does the Gospel have any transformational power beyond our salvation?

Notice the exhortations of the Apostle Paul…

Galatians 2:20 – My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.   So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

Ephesians 4:19 – May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Philippians 1:21 – For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

Colossians 1:11 – We also pray that you will be strengthened with all His glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need.

In these verses, Paul clearly shows that the Christian life is lived not through our own strength, but through the power of the Gospel. That is what makes the Gospel so different from religion. Religion works from the outside in, cleaning up the outside while letting the inside go. The Gospel, though, works from the inside out. It changes our inner man, which results in our outer man being changed as well.

So, how does this play out in our life? Here are a few practical truths that if applied will help you to live out the power of the Gospel.

1. Don’t get entrapped by legalism

For so many years, I based my spiritual self-worth on my ability or inability to do right. For example, if I faithfully read my Bible, then I felt good about myself. If I spent “adequate” time in prayer, then I felt more confident of God’s blessings and power on my life. But, if I failed to do any of those things, then I lived with guilt and shame, confident that God was unhappy with me.

I was stuck on the hamster wheel of trying to please God. Unfortunately, I was chasing after something I could never attain. On my own, I was totally incapable of pleasing Him.

In Galatians 5:1 Paul declares, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” In other word, don’t allow yourself to be caught up in trying to “do things” to please God. It doesn’t matter what you do, you can never be good enough!

2. Realize that Christ is in you

The only way that you and I will grow in our faith is through the power of Christ in us. In Colossians 1:17 Paul told the Gentiles that Christ lived in them – “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” You see, the Gospel not only justifies, but it sanctifies as well. It not only saves you, but it makes you like Jesus.

3. Surrender to the Holy Spirit

In Romans 8:11 Paul declares that the Spirit of God that raised Jesus from the dead lives in you. Yes, you possess resurrection power! We access that power whenever we surrender the control of our lives to Him. It is through our submitting to the Holy Spirit that He eliminates the works of the flesh from our lives and replaces them with the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-23).

The simple truth is that the Gospel changes everything.   It is not just a truth to be believed, but the very power of God that transforms us.   It is only when we stop trying to change ourselves and we submit to Him that real transformation takes place.   Allow the Gospel to do its work in your life!

Be The Church!

July 28, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

In yesterday’s message, Jose Santiago showed us from Scripture that the Church is not a program, a denomination, or a building. The Church is made up of people from every generation, race and nationality that have been redeemed by Jesus’ blood and by faith have decided to follow Him.  The reality is that we are part of a large family of believers that is called the Church.  We don’t go to church; we are the Church!

That certainly puts a new perspective on things.  If that is the case, then, the Church isn’t just a Sunday only operation; rather it exists every day of the week.  The Church’s most important ministries do not take place within its four walls, but in the daily lives of its members.  In other words, the Church is a 24/7 operation!

Anglican Priest Ernest Southcott said it this way, “The holiest moment of the church service is the moment when God’s people – strengthened by preaching and sacrament – go out of the church door into the world to be the church. We don’t go to church; we are the church.”

So, how do you and I actively be the Church?  How do we live out the Church’s mission at home, work and play?  Here are a few biblical recommendations.

1.  Attend faithfully

The most frequent term used for “Church” in the New Testament is the Greek word Ekklesia.  It refers to an assembly of believers that meet together for the purposes of worship, instruction and fellowship (Acts 2:42).   It is at this gathering of believers that we join together in praise, are instructed by preaching and challenged to be proclaimers of the Gospel message.  This should be an important event in our weekly schedule.

Unfortunately, though, many believers fail to make this all-important “team meeting.”  Recent statistics show that the average American Evangelical only attends thirty Sundays a year.  The other 22 Sundays they are busy with vacations, family get-togethers, weekend getaways, “need some rest weekends,” etc.

The writer of Hebrews confronted this same tendency in his day.  He stated in 10:25, ” And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.”  The simple truth is that your meeting with the Church on Sunday helps you to be the Church during the week.

2. Live compassionately

Every day of our lives, we are presented with opportunities to minister to hurting people.   Please do not write that statement off as if it was too broad or generic.  The simple fact is that whether at work, at school, in the grocery store or even in our own neighborhood, we interact with people who have serious emotional, physical, relational or spiritual needs.  We might not know they have needs, and quite frankly, we might not care if they have needs, but that doesn’t change the fact that we are interacting with needy people.

Jesus understood this concept.  Repeatedly, the New Testament states that Jesus was moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36; 14:14; Mark 1:41).  One author said, “Jesus scoped out human need like metal shavings to a magnet.”  How true!  Yet, as Christ followers, we should respond with the same missional intensity.   Let me challenge you to look for someone each day to whom you can be the Church and show the love of Jesus.

3. Pray fervently

All of us would confess that we do not pray enough.  Yet, God gives us many occasions throughout the course of the day to pray for others.   What would happen if we prayed for our neighbors as we drove by their homes each morning?  How many more ministry chances would we have if we arrived at work ten minutes early and prayed for our co-workers?  What if we briefly prayed for those in the cars that we passed? As the Church we should never stop praying (I Thessalonians 5:16).

4. Give generously 

The simple truth is that the message of the Gospel should make us more generous.  Paul clearly makes that point in II Corinthians 8:9 – “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty He could make you rich.”  Of course, every believer should faithfully give to the ministry of their local church.  But, above and beyond our regular giving, let me challenge you to look for ways to give to others.

Here are some ways you can show the generosity of Jesus to others – Buy lunch for a co-worker.  Fill the gas tank of a single mother.  Purchase school supplies for an underprivileged family.  Support a child in a third world country.   All of those are ways that you can use the resources God has given you to bless others.

The reality is that God’s Church will grow as believers live out the principles of Jesus Christ in their communities.   Let me challenge you to be the Church this week.  Make a commitment to meet together with your faith family, show the compassion of Jesus, fervently pray for those around you and be generous with what God has given you.  Let’s be the Church every day this week!

Motivated by the Second Coming

July 14, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

Yesterday, Brad Creviston preached a terrific message on the Second Coming of Christ.  He highlighted the certainty of Christ’s return as well as the promise that every person (believer or unbeliever) will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ.  I would encourage you to watch his message.  You can find it here:http://site.ourhcc.org/sermons/

We must realize, though, that there is a huge difference between believing in the reality of Christ’s coming and living in the reality of His coming.  Intellectually, one can believe what the Bible teaches, know the theological terms, and defend a specific eschatological calendar, yet their life still not be changed.  The simple truth is that a theological belief should change the way you live.  If your life is not transformed by your doctrinal position then you must either change your theological belief or examine the way you live.  Biblical truth doesn’t just instruct; it also transforms.

So, how should the Second Coming of Christ impact your life?

1. It motivates you toward holy living

In I John 3 the Apostle speaks of the tremendous blessings we will receive when Jesus appears.  First, he says that we will see Jesus.  WOW!  Think of the magnitude of that statement – “We will see Him as He is.”   Secondly, we will be like Him.  What does that mean?  We will have glorified bodies.  As one author stated, “Christians will be morally without sin, intellectually without falsehood or error, physically without weakness or imperfections, and filled continually with the Holy Spirit.”  (ESV Study Bible, page 2433) I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait till all those things happen!

In verse three, though, John makes a profound statement.  He says, “And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as He is pure.”

Peter makes the same declaration in I Peter 1:13-15, “So think clearly and exercise self-control.  Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world.  So you must live as God’s obedient children.  Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires.  You didn’t know any better then.  But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy.”

The simple truth is that a belief that I will soon stand before Jesus will change the way I live.  It will cause me to not satisfy my own desires.  It will motivate me to surrender to the power of the Holy Spirit so that He may produce in me a life of holiness.

2. It motivates you to “get together” with other believers

Yes, a realization that Jesus Christ is coming back should stimulate you to faithfully meet with your faith family.   Hebrews 10:25 states that we should “not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.”  If I truly believed that Christ’s return was sure, maybe even imminent, then I would want to get together as frequently as possible with other fellow believers.   Looking back in the passage, the writer of Hebrews states that our meeting together should accomplish several goals.

  • “Getting together” keeps our faith strong – 10:23
  • “Getting together” motivates us to acts of love and good works – 10:24
  • “Getting together” provides encouragement – 10:25

3.  It motivates you to boldly evangelize

Jesus’ last words before ascending into Heaven were evangelistic.  In Acts 1:8 He declared, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.  And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  He then was taken via a cloud to glory. 

As the disciples gazed into the sky, two angels appeared to them with these words, “Why are you staring into Heaven?  Jesus has been taken from you into Heaven, but someday He will return from Heaven in the same way you saw Him go.”   Here is my interpretation of the angels’ declaration – “Jesus is coming back.  Get to work!”

Quite frankly, if we really believed that Jesus was coming back, if we lived that reality, then you could not keep us from evangelizing our family and friends.  The reality of His return would motivate us to tell everyone we know about Jesus.

The question is not, “Do you believe that Jesus is coming back?” but rather, “Are you living like He is going to return?”  Let me challenge you to not only believe in the reality of Christ’s coming, but to allow that reality to affect the way you live.  When is Jesus coming back?  Only God knows.  But we have been commanded to be ready.  Are you ready for His return?

What Happens When An Infant Dies?

July 7, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

As a pastor, the “why” questions are always the most difficult to answer.  Why did I get cancer?  Why did I lose my job?  Why is this happening to me?  Without a doubt, though, the most problematic and the most emotionally charged “why” question is, “Why did God allow my child to die?”

Last week, that question once again became personal for us.  Little Baby Max, a two-and-a-half year old boy that we had come to love, passed away.   Baby Max was born with severe physical problems.  From birth his parents cared for him with a patient love that I have seldom witnessed in my thirty years of ministry.   Last Sunday, Baby Max’s physical struggles came to an end as he passed from this life to the next.

Why, though, does God allow such a precious little one to suffer?  Why would God put a child into a family only to allow that child to be taken from them after a few short years?  Admittedly, these are questions that do not have easy answers.   Although we cannot not definitely say why, we do know what happens.  The Bible gives us profound truths that  give meaning and peace at such difficult times.

1.  Every life is complete and has meaning

I read this week about a tombstone that marks the death of a child.  It simply stated, “so small, so sweet, so soon.”  For those parents, that life ended abruptly and way too soon, but for God that life was full and complete.

In Psalm 139:16 David states, “You saw me before I was born.  Every day of my life was recorded in your book.  Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.”  What a tremendous truth!  Before life commences God knows its beginning and its end.  Each detail of that life is fully planned and laid out by God.

Every life, regardless of its length, is full and complete in the eyes of God.   No life is cut short.  No life ends too soon.  No life is unfulfilled.  No life is void of meaning.  God makes no mistakes.

2. Babies are loved by God

One does not have to read much of the New Testament to feel the heart of Jesus for little children.  All three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 19:14; Mark 10:14; :Luke 18:16) relate the story of Jesus becoming indignant when the disciples prevented some children from coming to Him.  In clear and concise terms, Jesus says, “Let the children come to Me.  Don’t stop them!”   Wow!  This is an incredibly touching statement.  Jesus, the Creator of the Universe, is interested in and has time for children.

This truth is summed up in the children’s chorus that I learned as a child…

Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world.

Now, I know you are thinking, “If God loves all children, how come He allows child-abuse? How does He allow millions of kids to suffer from malnutrition?”  Let us be reminded that these are the results of sin entering into the world.  God certainly does not will or even desire for children to suffer such atrocities.  Yet, in the midst of a sinful, corrupt and Hell-bent world, the love of God for children shines out like a bright light in a dark room.   In many cases, He is the only One who loves them.

3. Heaven is for children

One of the great theological questions is, “What happens then, when an infant dies?  Does that baby go to Heaven?”  This is a question theologians have struggled with through the years.  I confess it is a topic that is not directly addressed in Scripture.  As a result theologians have arrived at various conclusions (infant baptism, children of believers are holy, etc.).  I believe there are certain spiritual truths, which help us to draw a rational and biblical conclusion.

  • The words of Jesus are clear

In the passages to which we just referred, Jesus makes a second major pronouncement.  After declaring how important children are to Him, he states, “For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.”  In other words, Heaven was created not for the intellectually advanced or the religiously committed.  No, Heaven was created for those that have the faith of little children.

  • The grace of God is extensive

Let me clearly state that I do not believe that babies are sinless.  A little baby, as cute and as innocent as it looks, is not saved; is not regenerated; is not justified; and is not a child of God.  Babies are born in sin and are dead in sin (Psalm 51:5; Eph. 2:1). As they get older their depraved sinful nature will manifest itself in many ugly ways.

Nevertheless, because of the child’s premature death, the baby never hears and understands the Gospel.  He never makes a commitment for Christ and is never baptized.  We do not believe, though, that such a child is exempt from God’s grace.  To the contrary, like the person who accepts Christ, that child is protected by the grace of God.

One of the best examples in Scripture is found in I Samuel 12:23.  David’s infant son had just died.   When questioned about his response to the child’s death, David makes a profound statement.  He says, “…I will go to him one day, but he cannot return to me.”

  • The goodness of God is infinite

The simple truth is that God always does the right thing.  Genesis 18:25 states, “Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?” Concerning the infant who dies—God will do the right thing.   The all-wise, loving God will do what is right in light of God’s holy and righteous character.  May we learn to rest on this wonderful fact!

4. God has purposes we cannot understand

Isaiah 55:8 states, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.  “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”  We must admit that we do not always understand what God is doing.  His ways are inscrutable, unquestionable and perfect.  Though we cannot understand what He is doing at the moment, eternity will shed light on the beauty and the perfection of God’s will.

So today, we take comfort in the fact that Baby Max is in the presence of Jesus.  His physical struggles are over, and he is resting in the joy and the wonder of Heaven.  That is what gives us faith and hope in the midst of profound loss.

Did Jesus Descend Into Hell?

June 23, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

During the summer months at HCC our sermon series is on the Apostle’s Creed.   This past Sunday (6/22) our study included the Creed’s most controversial phrase, “Jesus descended to the dead,” or as some translations say, “Jesus descended into Hell.”  What does that phrase mean?  Does it indicate that Jesus endured further suffering after His death on the cross?  Did Jesus literally take a trip to Hell in between His death and resurrection? Those are legitimate questions that need to be examined in the light of historical and biblical evidence.

The Evidence from History

Unfortunately, it is not an easy assignment to trace the history of the Apostle’s Creed.  The reason for such difficulty is that the Apostle’s Creed, in contrast to other declarations of faith, was not approved by one Church council.  Rather, it was progressively written between A.D. 200 to 750.  This extended history makes it difficult to determine what should or should not pertain to the Creed.   Nevertheless, there is some historical evidence as to the veracity of the phrase, “Jesus descended into Hell.”

Both church historian Philip Schaff and modern day theologian Wayne Grudem state that the phrase “descended into Hell” did not appear in any form of the Creed until around A.D 390.  The first person to use it was Tyrannius Rufinus of Aquileia, who interpreted the phrase to mean that Christ was buried, not that He descended into hell.  After that, the phrase did not appear in any other form of the Creed until A.D. 650.   Those are important facts!   Thus, to attribute the belief that Jesus literally took a trip to Hell from the Apostle’s Creed has a shaky foundation.

The important question, though, is not what the Creed says, but rather, what does the Bible say?

The Evidence from Scripture

The legitimacy of Christ’s descent into Hell is equally difficult to prove from the biblical evidence.  There are five biblical passages used to support the idea that Jesus descended into Hell.  They are Acts 2:27; Romans 10:6-7; Ephesians 4:8-10; I Peter 3:18-20 and I Peter 4:6.  As we will see, these passages are not crystal clear.  As a result, they have led to ambiguity and a diversity of opinion.  There are three main forms of thought when it comes to interpreting this phrase…

  • Jesus descending to Hell is a reference to the grave.  It simply reiterates the fact that Jesus physically died.
  • Jesus descending to Hell is a reference to a kind of spiritual death. When God turned His back on Jesus, He experienced spiritual separation from God the Father.
  • Jesus descending to Hell refers to His descent into the Abyss to announce His triumph over the demons and to take the OT Saints from Abraham’s Bosom with Him to heaven.

Let’s take a closer look at several of the passages and attempt to arrive at a sound biblical conclusion.

Acts 2:27

Peter, in his Day of Pentecost sermon, references Psalm 16:10 and applies it to the resurrected Christ.  Does it mean that Jesus entered Hell after He died?  The context proves otherwise.  Peter was speaking of Christ’s resurrection.  The verse clearly states that God would not allow Jesus to remain in the grave.  Death could not hold Him. His body would not decay.  After three days He would overcome death.

Ephesians 4:8-10

In this passage Paul is dealing with the fact that only Jesus is qualified to give gifts to men.  That qualification is based upon His having descended to the lower parts of the earth and then ascended to the heights of Heaven.    Some interpret the lower parts as a reference to Hell, but the more logical reference is simply to His incarnation.  Because He descended (His incarnation), He was able to ascend to the heights of Heaven (His exaltation).

I Peter 3:18-20; 4:6

Undoubtedly, this is the most challenging passage.  Many hold that these verses teach the fact that Jesus went to Hell and preached to fallen angels.  Along with this belief many hold that while there, Jesus released the Old Testament believers who had been unable to enter heaven until Christ’s work on the cross was done.   Is that what this passage is teaching, though?  Let’s take a close look at the context.

  • Peter is making a parallel between the people of his day and those that lived during the days of Noah.
  • Noah was used by God to preach the Gospel to the hostile unbelievers around him.
  • The idea being that those who died in the flood, who were now in Hell, had the Gospel preached to them while they were still alive.

To arrive at the conclusion that Peter is speaking of Jesus’ descent into Hell necessitates that one ignore the context of the passage.  It is much wiser to take the easier interpretation and conclude that Peter is referencing something that happened in Noah’s day rather than something that took place in between Christ’s death and resurrection.

Conclusion

As seen above, although there are a few New Testament passages that seem to support such a descent to Hell, there are many others that teach the contrary.   For example, the words of Jesus on the cross teach otherwise…

  • Jesus told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43), indicating that when He died He immediately went into the presence of God.
  • Jesus cried out, “It is finished” (John 19:30) suggesting that His work of atonement was now complete; a descent into Hell was not necessary.
  • He cried, “Father into your hands I commend My Spirit” (Luke 23:46) implying that He expected to instantly be taken to Heaven.

Contemplating all of those factors, I suggest that the phrase “Jesus descended to the dead” or “Jesus descended into Hell” simply refers to the fact that Jesus died.  His work on the cross was complete.  He perfectly and completely finished the work His Father had given Him to do.  That is the essence of the Gospel!

References

Grudem, Wayne. “Systematic Theology.” Zondervan, 2000.  pp. 582-594

MacArthur, John.  “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Acts 1-12.” Moody Press, 1994. p. 66.

MacArthur, John. “The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians.”  Moody Press, 1986.  pp. 137-140.

Why Study The Apostle’s Creed?

June 2, 2014  |  No Comments  |  by Brian Burkholder  |  Pastor's Blog

I believe in God the Father Almighty Creator of heaven and earth:  I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.  He descended to the dead.  On the third day He rose again.  He ascended into heaven, He is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and He will come again to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.  Amen!

This past Sunday, we began a new sermon series on the Apostle’s Creed titled, “I Believe…” You can watch the intro video here. http:///www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7zG5FO93_w

Although frequently recited in certain denominational churches, the Apostle’s Creed has not been a part of Baptist tradition.   One dear lady after yesterday’s service, reprimanded me for teaching Catholic doctrine.  Is that really the case, though?  Is the Apostle’s Creed pertinent to all evangelicals, or is it only for more liturgical churches?  Is it something that we at HCC should study and if so, why?

1. It is a synthesis of the Christian faith

Contrary to popular opinion, the Apostle’s Creed is not a synopsis of Catholic doctrine.  Many get confused by the phrase “I believe in the holy catholic church.”  Notice that the term “catholic” is found in small case and not capitalized.  The term means “universal” and speaks of the body of Christ, not of a specific denomination.

It is believed that this creed, or a form of it, dates back to the second or third century.  For over a thousand years Christians in Western Europe knew the Creed only in Latin. Its opening words were “credo in Deum,” “I believe in God.” Our English word “creed” derives from this first word of the Creed, “credo.” As the word suggests, it is a statement of faith.

In a brief 113 words, the early Church was able to summarize their beliefs.  Notice that the Apostle’s Creed is God centered.  It is Trinitarian.  It is Gospel focused, and it is Bible based.  There is nothing in the Creed that is not strongly supported by Scripture.  And, although not exhaustive, the Creed does articulate the majority of the major Bible doctrines.

2.  It reminds us of our heritage

In II Timothy 2:2 Paul challenged Timothy to pass along the things he had been taught.  One of the ways the early Church did this was through creeds.  Remember, they did not possess computers, cell phones or the Internet.  They synthesized their doctrines, memorized them and then verbally passed them on to future generations.  How cool to think that we are able to read, study and memorize the same Creed that was used by Christians hundreds if not thousands of years ago.

Many Bible and Church History scholars believe that part of this Creed was used as early as 120 AD.  Additionally, around 180 AD an early form of the Creed was used to refute the Marcion heresy.  It ultimately reached its final form sometime in the early 7th century.   That is so important.  The antiquity of this declaration demonstrates that we are not isolated or disconnected from the past.  To the contrary, we have a spiritual heritage.

3.  It is a personal declaration of belief

I love how the Apostle’s Creed is personal.  Notice that the first two words are “I believe,” not “we believe.”   Consequently, the Apostle’s Creed is tailored to be a personal statement of faith.

That is so significant for the time in which we live.   Today, relativism rules, and absolutism is looked down on.  The world desperately needs individuals that will stand up for truth and uncompromisingly declare what they believe.   The Apostle’s Creed is a tremendous way to publicly and privately affirm our faith.

So HCC family, let me encourage you to solidify your beliefs.  Together we can give a unified voice as to the power of the Gospel.  What do you believe?