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

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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

The World We Made

As we celebrate the Week of Prayer for North American Missions, once again Southern Baptist Convention leaders find themselves in an awkward position. Having tried to reinstate a world where authoritative leadership is the rule of the day, they are running desperately away from the logical result of their efforts – Donald Trump for President.
The movement in conservative evangelical religion to recapture authoritarian modes of leadership has resulted in significant wins and losses for the SBC. In small local churches all around the south, newly indoctrinated young pastors have succeeded in carrying out a time-honored Baptist tradition of multiplying by dividing. As they assert their authority by challenging the long-established local traditions, churches have split, resulting in new contributing Baptist congregations built on the most sacred of foundations – the family feud.
Having worked hard to create this authoritarian world through education and belligerence, Southern Baptist leaders like Paige Patterson and Al Mohler find themselves running scared when presidential candidate Trump comes along and ups the ante, appealing to the worst instincts of fear-mongering and desperation to see the world in black and white.
This phenomenon should remind us to be attentive to the world we are making through our words and actions. When we choose inclusiveness and kindness in place of fear and hate, we make our little piece of the world a better place.
The world calls out to us to achieve success through power. But as Christians, we should remember that Jesus said “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wished to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve…” (Mark 10:43-44).

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

Mental Illness

The gospels are full of stories of Jesus and his power to heal. You remember the dramatic story of the demon-possessed man in Mark in the country of the Gerasenes (Mark 5:1-20). I will never forget the description of this man before Jesus came, “no one could bind him, not even with chains, for he had often been bound with shackles and he had pulled the chains apart…” And I will never forget the powerful climax as Jesus cast out the demons and now the man was “sitting and clothed and in his right mind.”
“In his right mind.” Many people are not in their right mind. Mental illness seems to be an epidemic among us. At the same time, resources to help with such illness seem to be disappearing. In the church, we struggle to understand why Jesus doesn’t just show up and heal.
Jesus does not just show up and heal. The purpose of Jesus’ ministry of healing when He was on the earth was not to promise to heal every disease instantly. We do not doubt that Jesus can and does give miracles of healing. But these are always special circumstances. Healing does not usually come in a miraculous way or instantaneously. Even the great apostle Paul prayed for deliverance and received instead the promise of God’s grace to endure his affliction (2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
As Christians we are especially prone to think that when we, or someone we love, has a mental or emotional illness that praying should be all we have to do. But mental illness is no different than physical illness. While we pray for God’s healing and help, we should also do what we do when we are physically sick, provide care and support, encourage them to seek a competent doctor and to follow the treatment plan.
When a brother or sister in the church has cancer, we show up with casseroles or mow their lawn or just sit and visit and provide a listening ear. When someone is dealing with mental illness, we have often abandoned them because of our fear or uncertainty. We need to show the love of Christ to them in just the same way.
Showing the love of Christ also means that we recognize that mental illness is usually a chronic disease. Even cancer is sometimes only a temporary physical condition. Mental illness might be managed by lifestyle changes and medicine, but it does not go away. Relapses and new symptoms will come. Be ready for that and don’t quit when those relapses come.
Remember that help needs to be offered in ways that are really helpful. Sometimes families and individuals dealing with mental illness need to say no to you. They cannot always cope with social interactions that would seem benign to healthier people.
Jesus has given us the task to be His hands of healing. Most of the healing that Jesus does comes from giving His Spirit through His church, His people. As we bless others with our presence and our help, we are Jesus’ ministry of healing. Jesus does show up and heal…through us.

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