In a Messed-Up World

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

Jesus was born into a world where his people were oppressed by a vicious and violent empire. His world was full of turmoil and division. The Zealots believed that God was calling them to violent overthrow of the Roman government. The Sadducees believed that following a strict reading of the Mosaic Law would bring prosperity. There were countless other competing ideas: the Pharisees strict piety, the Samaritans tribal regionalism, the Hellenists drive to imitate the Greeks.

Into this world, Jesus came. Satan himself tempted Jesus from the beginning to display his power and dominate the world with his authority. The Pharisees and the Zealots and the Samaritans all sought to influence him. In this world of political and social and ideological turmoil, Jesus taught that the kingdom of God was something different.

God’s kingdom does not overcome through violent oppression, fearful intimidation or divisive hatred. God’s kingdom, Jesus said, was a kingdom built on loving God and loving others.

When the violent oppressors of Rome and Judea arrested Jesus and executed him by torturing him on a cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus went to the cross because he knew his sacrifice was the only way to begin this kingdom of God.

In Christ’s death on the cross and resurrection from the dead, God began His program of changing the world through changing one heart at a time, through faith and hope and love. When we accept Christ as our Savior, we join God’s kingdom and His plan to save the world by saving us. And we commit ourselves to doing it the way Jesus did, through loving sacrifice and selfless service.

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Being a Mother

Being a mother may be the most important thing a person can do. This Sunday is Mother’s Day. All over America, people will be celebrating their mothers and the great influence they have been. If you have any measure of emotional stability and maturity, the chances are that you have a mother to thank for it.

 

Of course, many mothers do not take care of their children the way they should. Children wind up abandoned or abused, neglected and lost, because mothers and fathers fail to do their job. But if your mother took care of you, you had a much better chance to grow up and be okay.

 

Most of us know that the Ten Commandments say that we should honor our mothers and fathers. But the Bible also has a lot to say about parents taking care of their children. Parents are commanded to discipline, provide for and teach their children. If you have a child, your job is to raise them to be a healthy adult.

 

If you want to raise your child to be a mature adult, you have to start by being one yourself. Children are not ornaments or playthings or built-in best buddies. When God gives us children, He expects us to teach them about life and about Him and about how to be a grown-up.

 

People have children for lots of reasons, some good and some not so good. When someone tells me they want to have a baby, I always ask “Do you want to have a teenager?” because eventually you’ll have one of those too. God calls us as parents to raise our children with respect and love and discipline. “Raise a child up in the way he or she should go, and in the end they will not depart from it.”

 

 

Love in Christ

Greg W. Burriss

Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church

 

On Being a Moderate Baptist

In the most recent issue of the Campbell Divinity School newsletter, Dean Andy Wakefield discusses the difficulty that we moderate Baptists have in describing our position. “It turns out,” he says, “that it is hard to describe the middle ground in a single, exciting sound bite.” Wakefield is lamenting the fact that at present, everyone appears to be gravitating to extremes in the expression of Christian faith.

 

Wakefield summarizes the struggles that Campbell has in trying to be a community that is faithful to Christ and to scripture while at the same time trying to be open to diverse cultures and viewpoints. We find ourselves caught between being “pushed into a fundamentalist corner,” or “minimizing the importance of the core of orthodox Christian belief,” as he puts it.

 

This is exactly the struggle that many of us moderate Baptists find ourselves living with. We believe in the traditional Christian faith, but we also recognize and are sensitive to the complexities of life and the human struggle. We know that many questions are not answered in the clear-cut way we would like them to be. At least, that is where I find my own thinking and my own faith.

 

Wakefield concludes his article by saying that he does know of a simple slogan that embodies this way of faith. Of course, it is the motto of the Campbell University Divinity School: “Christ- centered, Bible-based and Ministry-focused.” If we can adhere to that core, I think we may find our way to being faithful followers of Jesus.

 

Love in Christ,

Greg W. Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church

Calm

This week in my daily prayers I have been reading Psalm 131.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up

My eyes are not raised too high;

I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me.

But I have calmed and quieted my soul,

Like a weaned child with its mother;

My soul is like a weaned child with its mother.

O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time on and forever.

 

In a world where there is so much noise and anxiety, the image of this Psalm gives great comfort. We might paraphrase it this way:

 

Lord, I’m going to let go of all my worry about the world,

Violence and war and economic depression for this little while

And sit in your lap and let you care for me like my mother would.

I’m not crying for milk,

Just a moment to be calmed by Your Presence.

And to all my sisters and brothers,

Don’t give up remembering that this calm you feel in God’s presence

Is the down payment on God’s promise of eternal peace.

 

 

Love in Christ,

Greg W. Burriss, Pastor

Rocky River Baptist Church

 

What Would Jesus Do about Easter Violence?

On Easter Sunday this year, almost 70 people, mostly women and children were killed in Lahore Pakistan at a public park. Militant Islamists, part of the Taliban in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the bombing. The bombing killed Christians and Muslims.
Christian journalists and preachers were quick to condemn this horrible attack. Many of them encouraging us to recognize the horror but also to add this to a growing concern about Islamist groups targeting Christians with violence.
This event is a tragedy that we rightly condemn. The fact that Islamist terrorists targeted a mostly Christian area on a Christian holiday leaves no doubt that this was an act of religious aggression. We join the world in condemning the violence and grieving with the victims and their families.
But we must not allow these extremists to draw us into their culture war. Human history is full of violent persecutions and oppressions. Perhaps, it always will be. Hatred and jealousy and greed are not limited to any one group or religious expression. As Christians, followers of Jesus, we should grieve equally with all people any time such violence occurs. When we allow ourselves to be drawn into the rhetoric of “us” vs. “them” we demonstrate that our hearts have not been surrendered to the Prince of Peace.
After the bombing, a mob of 4000 Christians gathered and part of them lynched two men who were suspected to be involved in the incident. Everyone understands the desire for vengeance when this kind of attack occurs, but we serve a Master who said that we are to seek forgiveness and truth. A mob mentality is not acceptable simply because you think God is on your side.
The Taliban think that God is on their side. They use that belief to justify their violence. Jesus calls us to a better way.
Love in Christ,
Greg W. Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church

He Rose from the Dead

The followers of Jesus made an extraordinary claim: Jesus rose from the dead. They did not say that they saw visions of him or that his spirit appeared to them. They claimed and passed along that Jesus died on the cross. He was dead. He was buried. Then he was alive again, not just a spirit but his body too.
It’s not hard to understand why people are skeptical about this claim. They were skeptical then too. Ultimately, the resurrection of Jesus is a matter of faith. It cannot be proven to be true. New Testament historian Bart Ehrman is right when he claims that historians can only talk about probabilities and miracles are, by definition, improbable.
While we cannot prove the resurrection of Jesus, there are still good reasons to believe it. These reasons may not convince a skeptic, but they certainly demonstrate that is reasonable to trust the evidence of the gospels about this all-important historical event.
The most powerful reason to believe in the resurrection is the existence of the Christian faith. Jesus’ disciples were defeated and distraught after his death. The women went to the tomb to anoint a dead body. The other disciples were in hiding. What changed the disciples’ outlook? The dramatic change was produced by a dramatic event. The Jesus they were mourning, suddenly, he wasn’t dead anymore.
Bishop N. T. Wright suggests another reason why we should trust the history of the resurrection accounts. The Jews of Jesus’ time believed that God would resurrect the dead, but they believed that this resurrection would come at the judgment and that everyone would be raised. They did not have any ideas about one man being raised from the dead. Therefore, Wright argues, they would not have made this up because it would not have occurred to them. Until Jesus arose, they did not think God’s plan involved the Messiah dying and being raised again.
Such reasons will not change the minds of anyone who cannot believe in miracles. To many people, the resurrection of Jesus is merely wishful thinking. But if we can allow ourselves to receive the grace of God and trust that He raised Jesus from the dead, we will find the hope of resurrection in the many struggles we have each day and in an eternity where we never die.
Love in Christ
Greg W. Burriss
Pastor, Rocky River Baptist Church

Picking Up the Donkey

Sunday is Palm Sunday. As Jesus entered Jerusalem the week of His crucifixion, he staged a demonstration. He rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah had said, “your king comes to you triumphant…humble and riding on a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9). So when Jesus rode into Jerusalem to begin the final showdown that would lead to His execution, He was declaring Himself to be the Messiah, the anointed king that God had promised. People laid palm branches in front of His parade as He entered the city. That is why we call it Palm Sunday.
Before Jesus began this public declaration, he told two of His disciples to go and get the donkey. They did not know what He was doing, but Jesus included them in His preparations.
Jesus will do the same with you. God is always on the move, trying to draw men and women to Himself. And He invites you to be a part of His plans. We don’t always know exactly what God is planning to do, but when we are faithful to obey and follow the teachings of Jesus, we are helping to prepare the way for Jesus to declare Himself to the people that we know.
Jesus marched into Jerusalem to complete His mission to die and rise again. Jesus continues to march into the lives of people, forgiving and changing us so that we belong to Him. Our faithfulness makes us co-workers with God.
God’s plans may appear unusual to you. You may not be able to figure out where He is going or what He is doing. But if you will be faithful, you are helping to pave the way for His march toward the lives of your neighbors, family and friends.

Love in Christ,
Greg W. Burriss, Pastor
Rocky River Baptist Church
Siler City, NC