Most readers I would guess think all birthdays should be remembered. I especially think that would be true regarding the birth of a child. But the birthday I have in mind in this post is not the birth of a child, but rather the birth of the Church. This coming Sunday, May 31, is Pentecost Sunday and is the day many Christians acknowledge and celebrate the beginning of the Church.

Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks, is one of three main festivals Jewish people celebrated and still celebrate. Another of the three main festivals is Passover. It was during Passover that Jesus ate his final meal, was arrested, tried, and crucified. He rose from the dead on Sunday, what we call Easter, and appeared to his disciples for 40 days after which he returned to heaven. Pentecost Sunday came 10 days after Jesus’ ascension and commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the launching of the Church.

The account of the birth of the Church is recorded in Acts 2 and I encourage you to read the account. What should we remember as we focus on the birthday of the Church?

Both the Old Testament, and Jesus in his teaching during his ministry, looked forward to the founding of the Church. In response to Peter’s declaration that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” Jesus promised “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:13-20).

Jesus also informed them of the coming outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In his last teaching session with his apostles before he was arrested Jesus told them about the coming of Spirit (John 14-16). And just before he ascended he told them in Acts 1:8, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

The Apostle Peter preached the first sermon on the Day of Pentecost and early on in his proclamation quoted the Old Testament prophet Joel about what God foretold would happen: “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days” (Joel 2:27 and 28).

We should remember that the Church was God’s idea and that Jesus is the builder and Lord of it. We should also remind ourselves that he is still building his church today. What Peter proclaimed then is still true today: Jesus died on the cross and was raised on the third day. To become a part of the Church sinners are called to repent and be baptized; and when that happens Christians receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

We should remember that Jesus is still building his Church and that the Holy Spirit is crucial in the life and ministry of the Church. We should remember that the Church is not perfect nor are any of her members. However, we should remember that her founder and builder, Jesus, is. Happy birthday Church!

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In this post I want to highlight what I think is the least emphasized of what many Christians call ‘Holy Days.’ The most highlighted days churches and believers celebrate include Christmas, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter.

But for many Christians the one we celebrate this week, and the one I want to emphasize, is rarely mentioned: it is the day Jesus’ returned to heaven 40 days following his resurrection. It’s called Ascension Day, and this year is on Thursday, May 21.

I’m not sure why Ascension Day is passed over by so many churches and Christians, but I think it is an extremely important day. And after this summary, I hope you do too.

Many readers will remember that Jesus’ final words on the cross before he died were “It is finished.” His role as our Savior and Lord was not over at that point; but his sacrifice for our forgiveness and salvation was over. Three days later he rose from the dead and for 40 days through a series of appearances he continued his ministry. That part of his ministry concluded when he ascended to heaven.

One preacher I read this week titled his sermon about Jesus’ ascension, borrowing from NASA’s space trips, “Mission Accomplished.” But even though Jesus’ death on the cross paid the debt for our salvation, and by his ascension he returned to heaven, the Bible does not suggest that his work was over. Jesus is still active and we know that someday he will return. Perhaps after the second coming we might not only say it is finished, but also that his mission has been accomplished.

During his ministry on earth Jesus knew and anticipated he would eventually ascend and return to heaven. For example, in John 6:62 Jesus tipped his hat when he said to some who were complaining, “Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!” Then following his resurrection, in John 20:17 Jesus told Mary, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

Luke is the only Gospel writer who gives a real description of the ascension and he does it twice – once at the end of his gospel, and the second time in the opening chapter of the book of Acts. Note the Acts account in chapter 1, verses 6-11: Then they gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’  After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. ‘Men of Galilee,’ they said, ‘why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven’.”

What was the purpose of Jesus’ ascension? For one thing, it communicated to his followers that his appearances were coming to an end. Remember he had made a variety of appearances for 40 days. It was also an indication of the success and completion of what he had come to accomplish, and it displayed his return to heaven and God the Father.

What does the ascension mean to Christians today? Going back to Jesus’ farewell discourse before his arrest, in John chapters 14-16 Jesus told the apostles that after he left he would send the Holy Spirit. He did that on the Day of Pentecost and still sends the Holy Spirit to his followers today (see John 14:15-18, 15:26 and 27, and John 16:7-11).

A variety of passages in the New Testament tell us that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God interceding for us (see Romans 8:34, Colossians 3:1, and Hebrews 1:3, 6:20, 8:1 and 2, 10:12, and 12:2). A very encouraging passage is Hebrews 4:14-16, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Finally, Jesus’ ascension gives us a hint to his second coming. Remember what the angels said in Acts 1:11, “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

To conclude there are 4 final takeaways to keep in mind I borrow from another writer:

  1. Remember that Jesus is presently reigning as king and remains active and engaged in our lives and our world.
  2. Therefore, live boldly, confidently, and strategically as servants of the exalted king of heaven. Know your work for the Lord Jesus is not in vain.
  3. When suffering, take heart that Jesus is not indifferent to our struggles. Take your cares to the ascended Lord who hears our prayers.
  4. Finally, hope in a glorious future. The ascended Jesus will return and end suffering, destroy death and take us to be with him in heaven forever.

Ascension Day was and is indeed a Holy Day. Celebrate it this Thursday, May 21.

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As a Christian do you ever worry about, doubt, or question your salvation? I’ve never seen or done a survey asking the question, but my sense is that a lot of believers do from time to time.

It’s interesting that in the broad beliefs of Christianity in general, there are two basic positions. One is popularly known as once saved, always saved and the other one suggests a person can lose his or her salvation. Strange as it may sound, I don’t hold either position.

In the summer of 1976 as the pastor of a small church our youth group attended a Christ in Youth Conference. I remember sitting in one of the sessions and listening to the speaker talk about what is called our assurance of salvation. I don’t remember at that time if I doubted my salvation or not, but I do remember writing the date in the front of my Bible reminding me that I could be confident I was saved. Unfortunately, I tossed that Bible a few years ago because it began to fall apart.

Earlier this week I finished a new book by Dane Ortlund entitled GENTLE and LOWLY: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. The title, of course, comes from Jesus’ self-description in Matthew 11:29. In 33 short chapters Ortlund unpacks a variety of passages in both the Old Testament and New Testament that show us the heart of Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

I don’t remember hearing or reading anything in my past that was more encouraging, affirming, and assuring about my relationship with the Lord than this book. Before I share a few quotes I want to list a few chapter titles that say a lot about our God: “Able to Sympathize,” “I Will Never Cast Out,” “To the Uttermost,” “A Tender Friend,” “Father of Mercies,” “Rich in Mercy,” “To the End,” and “Buried in His Heart Forevermore.”

Ortlund’s book reaffirmed what I have believed and taught for many years: those who by faith have accepted Jesus into their hearts and lives as Savior and Lord can be confident and assured they are saved. Yes, we can be sure!

Sometimes, however, the realization of our failures and sins may cause us to worry and question our salvation. Early in the book the author explains “for the penitent, his [Jesus] heart of gentle embrace is never outmatched by our sins and foibles and insecurities and doubts and anxieties and failures.”

Thirty pages later he underscores his previous point: “When we sin, we are encouraged to bring our mess to Jesus because he will know just how to receive us. He doesn’t handle us roughly. He doesn’t scowl and scold . . . .  And all this restraint on his part is not because he has a diluted view of our sinfulness. He knows our sinfulness far more deeply that we do . . . . His restraint simply flows from his tender heart for his people” (p. 54).

A believer’s assurance of his or her salvation is not based on an absence of sin, but on the realization and acknowledgement of one’s sins. “The guilt and shame of those in Christ is ever outstripped by his abounding grace” (p. 68).

It would be a huge mistake for any Christian to see the truth of the Bible’s teaching in these quotes and conclude that it’s ok and no big deal for us to sin. It’s a believer’s sensitivity to his or her own sin that indicates their assurance of salvation. Near the end of the book Ortlund presses this home when he observes, “Our very agony in sinning is the fruit of our adoption [acceptance as a child of God]. A cold heart would not be bothered” (p. 194).

I believe the Bible clearly teaches that followers of Jesus can confidently answer the question “Are You Sure?” with a “yes.” And it isn’t because anything we have done or how good we are. It is because of God’s love and what Jesus did for us. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus invites, “Come to me.” To be sure of your salvation respond to his invitation over and over again as a way of life.

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Whether you know me or not, I’m confident you are not shocked by my admission that I’m not perfect. And I hope you are not shocked by my suggestion that neither are you. The reality is that we all are flawed and make mistakes. I’m fairly positive every person would agree that he or she is not perfect.

The fact that we know we are not perfect should result in some sense of humility. And humility is expressed when we acknowledge to others we are imperfect. I think what we need to guard against when we admit we were wrong is making excuses. No one wants to hear an admission and apology followed by a reason why we did or said something we shouldn’t have. Most of the time when someone admits a mistake, but gives an excuse for it, they are not taking responsibility for their misdeed.

Rather than defending ourselves with an excuse when we have shown we are imperfect, humility should lead us to an apology and probably a statement of intention to do better in the future.

Humility leads us to confess our shortcoming, apologize for it, resolve to do better in the future, and possibly ask for forgiveness if it is appropriate. Generally speaking I think it is best to take these steps as soon as possible. However, sometimes we aren’t convicted about our mess up at the time, but come to the realization later. Humility is needed to apologize and seek forgiveness hours, days, or weeks later.

So far I’ve been writing about our not being perfect, but another expression of humility is our acceptance of the imperfections of others. In the same way we are encouraged when others accept us and our apologies for mistakes, we too can encourage others by accepting them along with their weaknesses and failures. (That does not mean, however, that we have put ourselves in the position to be hurt again and again by someone.)

I’m a person who has said and done things and acted in ways I should not have more times than I can remember. There have been times when it took longer than it should have for me to admit my wrong, apologize, and ask for forgiveness. I’ve never regretted taking those steps, but I do regret the times I didn’t.

I’m not perfect – and neither are you. Even though most people will accept our apologies for our failures, and God will forgive us if we repent and ask Him for it; let’s not use the reality of our not being perfect to give us cover to do and say things we should not. Let’s keep growing and doing better as we accept and welcome the love and grace of our Heavenly Father and as we walk with his son — our Savior and Lord Jesus.

Here’s a final suggestion to think about: forgive yourself.

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