The Promise of Paradise: A sermon by Julian Pace

Below is a link to a sermon I preached at the First Christian Church of Savannah on Memorial Day weekend. It is entitled “The Promise of Paradise.” You will only be able to understand the banter with the congregation in the beginning of the audio by realizing that I preached this sermon from a raised pulpit which greatly limited my ability to move while I preached (I am typically very active while delivering my sermons.) Still, we shared a sweet time of fellowship together and I can’t wait to return. If you want to hear the sermon just click on this link and scroll down to the sermon entitled “The Promise of Paradise.” Blessings!

https://www.fccsavannah.org/sermons

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The Confident Christian

First Peter 3:15 says “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (NIV)”. Ever since the Pilgrims set out for the New World in 1620 in search of religious freedom, the Christian faith has played an integral role in shaping American culture. For many, the Christian faith was a stabilizing and positive influence in society. However, with the rise of secularism in the United States as well as the broader western world, many people increasingly look at the Christian faith with a skeptical, even hostile attitude. Will it be said of us that we as believers responded to this challenge with composure and grace, or that we shrank when skeptics asked the tough questions?

Many Christians live in fear of someone asking them a question such as: Why do you believe in God? Why do you call Jesus your Savior? Why is attending Church services so important to you? While we should always be ready to admit that we don’t have all the answers, we should also be equally confident of the fact that we serve a God who does. In James 1:5 we are given the promise that if we pray and ask God for wisdom he will give us the wisdom we so desire. Thus, we should always remember that before we set out to gather knowledge, we must first ask for wisdom from God. Only then will we know how to wisely apply the knowledge we gain from study and reflection.

Christians should receive a boost of confidence from the fact that the tradition we are a part of is filled with intellectual and spiritual giants. Indeed, great thinkers today still mine the words of Augustine, Anselm, Calvin, and of course, Jesus of Nazareth, for insight on topics as diverse as ethics, philosophy, history, and theology. Indeed, these thinkers ably defended the faith on intellectual grounds in the face of questions from skeptics from many different backgrounds. Leaning heavily on the thinking of the Apostle Paul in Romans 1, Christian apologists have often pointed out that the order and beauty of the universe points to the existence of a wise, master creator. Indeed, Psalm 19:1 proclaims “The heavens declare the glory of God (NIV)” Furthermore, the very existence of the disciples’ faith after Jesus’ crucifixion points to the truth that they actually saw their Savior resurrected on the third day. These are just a few of the arguments that have been put forth in favor of the reasonableness of our faith.

It should be noted that 1st Peter 3:15 is just as concerned with the spirit in which we defend our faith as well as the reasons we suggest for why we think our faith to be true. Christians are to be people who show love to all persons, in all situations. Indeed, the command to love our neighbor is given without qualification. When we share our faith with others we should always take care to be fair and respectful to those who disagree with us.

Perhaps it is only fitting that I should save what I believe the most important aspect of sharing one’s faith for last. While I do think Christians should be both intellectually and emotionally fit witnesses for the faith I think it is perhaps eminently more important, and probably more persuasive, for Christians to be ready to share at a moment’s notice what God has accomplished in their lives personally. Oftentimes, people will be more impressed by someone’s account of how God brought them through a battle with cancer, or how God healed them from bitterness and resentment towards a person who wounded them earlier in life. We should also be ready to share our testimony of how Jesus Christ drew us unto himself and brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light. All the knowledge and eloquence this world has to offer fare poorly when placed in juxtaposition with how God can transform people for the better. Indeed, this must be the most effective evidence for the truth and vitality of what we believe.

 

 

Wolfhart Pannenberg: Theologian of the Resurrection

With Easter Sunday rapidly approaching it is only fitting to recognize one of the greatest defenders of the historicity of the Resurrection in the twentieth Century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg felt that the study of Theology should be undertaken like other Academic disciplines and in his lifelong quest for truth he found that the Christian faith was deeply intellectually satisfying. I hope you enjoy reading about one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century, Wolfhart Pannenberg. Blessings and peace to all, Julian Pace.

He vehemently defended the Resurrection but denied the Virgin Birth. He was hugely influential but leaves few disciples. – Fred Sanders writing for Christianity Today upon the death of Wolfhart Pannenberg

It would not be implausible to say that one day church historians will include Wolfhart Pannenberg, along with Karl Barth, Thomas Oden, and J.I. Packer, as one of the greatest theological minds of the twentieth century. Pannenberg’s prowess in the fields of theology, philosophy, history, and the natural sciences set him apart from his contemporaries. In his lifetime, he molded a unique theological system that on the one hand was generally traditional and Lutheran, yet probing and rational in a way that placed him squarely within the tradition of the Enlightenment. It is probable that his most important contribution to Christian theology was his stirring defense of the bodily resurrection of Jesus and how he saw this event as the key to all of history, indeed the key to all revelation as well.[1]

Wolfhart Pannenberg was born in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland) in 1928, and though he was baptized as an infant into the established Lutheran church he was raised in a secular household. Despite his unchurched and secular background, Pannenberg was apparently a spiritually sensitive person and at sixteen was privy to what he would later call his “Light Experience”.[2] This powerful experience led Pannenberg to critically investigate the world’s religions in light of their philosophical and intellectual merits. The results of this intellectual quest, combined with the guidance of Pannenberg’s literature teacher who was a member of the Confessing Church during the second World War, led Pannenberg to conclude that Christianity was the most reasonable faith system available and therefore he became a Christian.[3]

For virtually his entire career, Pannenberg was a creature of the academy and it is in the field of academic theology that he produced the most written work. However, it should not be overlooked that his contributions in defending the historicity of the Resurrection have influenced and continue to shape the thinking of Evangelical theologians and New Testament scholars to the present day.[4] Indeed, this aspect of his theological output is probably his most enduring legacy. While Pannenberg’s staunch defense of the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection has won him many admirers in the Evangelical and Roman Catholic world, his liberal German peers were shocked at his findings. While Pannenberg was undoubtedly shaped by the liberal biblical criticism that was, and remains, rampant in German universities, this did not stop him from making the case that the evidence from the Pauline epistles and the existence of the church itself plausibly leads to the conclusion that Jesus of Nazareth did indeed rise from the dead.[5]

Dean of Beeson Divinity School Timothy George, is right to point out that Pannenberg’s thinking on several critical theological issues present some problems for Evangelicals.[6] Pannenberg rejected the Virgin birth, Chalcedonian Christology, as well as the concept of biblical inerrancy. However, this did not stop Pannenberg from taking the scriptures seriously and he felt that since the Bible was the record of God’s dealings with man it should be studied vigorously. In conclusion, Evangelicals should approach the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg critically but also with an eye to learn. Despite his errors on important theological issues, Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection has inspired many other Evangelical theologians and scholars to defend the Resurrection’s historicity with an even greater level of sophistication. Indeed, one cannot help but wonder how many have been persuaded to accept the claims of Christ in part due to the work of Wolfhart Pannenberg. Pannenberg demonstrated that Christianity is a belief system that is firmly grounded in historical events and therefore one need not sacrifice rational thinking and critical investigation on the altar of blind faith. For this reason alone, Pannenberg deserves our enduring respect and admiration.

References

[1] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: (The Westminster Press, 1977), 67-69.

[2] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” First Things (March 2012): 3-4. Accessed April 5, 2017. https://www.firstthings.com/article/2012/03/the­achievement­of­wolfhart­pannenberg.

[3] Michael Root, “The Achievement of Wolfhart Pannenberg.” 3.

[4] William Lane Craig, “The Resurrection of Jesus” Accessed April 5, 2017. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-resurrection-of-jesus. It is evident when reading Craig that the influence of Pannenberg is present. This is only reasonable as Craig did doctoral work under Pannenberg in Germany. Other Evangelicals like Gary Habermas and Michael Licona have built on Pannenberg’s work on the Resurrection.

[5] Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus-God and Man. 88-106.

[6] David Roach “Dean George on Wolfhart Pannenberg.” Accessed April 5, 2017 http://www.beesondivinity.com/fromthedean/posts/dean-george-on-wolfhart-pannenberg.

For Further Reading

Braaten, Carl E., and Philip Clayton, eds. The Theology of Wolfhart Pannenberg: Twelve American Critiques with an Autobiographical Essay and Response. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1988.

Erickson, Millard. Christian Theology. 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1983.

Olive, Don. Wolfhart Pannenberg. Makers of the Modern Theological Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Word Publishing, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. Jesus-God and Man. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1977.

Pannenberg, Wolfhart. The Apostles Creed: In the Light of Today’s Questions. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: The Westminster Press, 1972.

 

The day Psalm 127:3 finally made sense to me.

It is hard to believe that almost seven months have passed since that day. A day I will never forget. For most people February, 21, 2016 was probably a day much like any other. For me it was unusual as it was one of the very few Sundays when I did not attend church services. Waking up at almost nine o’clock on a Sunday-weird. But we were told to be at the hospital at eleven o’clock sharp to prepare for surgery which of course left attending services out of the question. You see, today was the day my baby boy, Josiah, would draw his first breath and be born via Caesarian section.

To say that I am a stoic fellow would be laughable but I have always liked to think that I am a man of some composure. Certainly, there are always risks when your wife has a baby but I knew she was in the hands of good surgeons who would do their best to keep her and my little boy safe. Besides, it’s not like this was a path I had never been down before. My little girl Gabriella had been born almost a year prior and God had brought us through this process. There were complications but now Gabby was a happy, healthy, and inquisitive little one year old. In fact, these things were all in the back of my mind as I prepared to welcome my son Josiah into the world.

While on the way to the hospital I found myself asking a multitude of questions. What if having your second child is simply not as exciting as when you had your first? Would this time be as special? Would I love this little boy as much as I loved my little girl? All these questions raced through my head and I truly wondered if I was up to the challenge of raising another little youngster.

As a nurse helped me prepare for surgery I felt like I was about to star in a medical drama as I was bedecked in disposable scrubs complete with gloves, mask, and all the necessary accoutrements. With my lovely wife Allison already prepared for surgery I was ushered into the operating room and the doctors set about their work and in just about ten minutes I heard my son cry for the very first time!

It was at this moment that all the veneer of bravado broke down. I was the father of a baby boy! His cries had brought me tears of joy and I could barely contain the feelings of happiness that welled up inside of me. When the nurses informed me he was nearly nine pounds and they joked that “we have a little football player” I could not help but feel a small sense of pride as I thought about my little boy’s future. In just a few minutes I held my little boy in my arms for the very first time. His little hands grasped my thumb as if to hold on for dear life. His every soft, moist breaths forced the hair on my arms to tingle just slightly. It was at this moment I realized that my son, even though I had known him only a few moments, already had a special place in my heart that no one could ever fill quite like he did. It was also at this time that I really began to grasp the truth of Psalm 127:3. This verse says “Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from him. (NIV)” As a Christian I had always known the truth of this verse but I believe it was in that little hospital room, just Josiah and I, when I began to really experience this truth. Yes, children really are rewards. Precious, tiny, little gifts from God above.

How Should Christians face discouragement?

 

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Discouragement is a universal human phenomenon. Christians are not excepted from this unhappy aspect of human experience. Discouragement is a very real and present danger in the life of the believer. Many different events in our life can lead us to despair- Death of a close friend or relative, prolonged sickness, multiple failed endeavors, or not being able to find stable employment. Sometimes just being a faithful witness for Christ in this sin sick world can lead us to depression. Any number of things that life throws at us can lead us to despair and allow us to slip into a lifestyle plagued by discouragement. When we get discouraged, and it is not a matter of if it is a matter of when, how should we deal with it? How should we face this age old problem in a fashion that honors Jesus Christ and is becoming of our Christian proclamation. In the following paragraphs I have listed a few things to remember if you are facing discouragement.

1st Kings 19 tells us that right after Elijah witnessed God’s power and glory on Mount Carmel (no not Mt. Caramel) that he fled to the wilderness due to the persecution wrought by the wicked Queen of Israel named Jezebel. Rather than being energized by the incredible victory, Elijah ran to the desert and fell into a deep depression. In fact, 1st Kings 19:4 tells us that Elijah begged God for death. If you are discouraged remember that you are in good company. Elijah was one of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament and even he succumbed to discouragement. The fact is, sometimes doing the right thing for God will make some people very unhappy and we will face persecution for our efforts. It is difficult to remain unaffected by such harsh rejection. Now, I am not saying that we should see our plight of discouragement as a badge of honor or develop a martyr complex but nor should you go to the opposite extreme and think that you are less of a Christian for sometimes getting discouraged.

I also find it interesting that Elijah found himself discouraged immediately after he witnessed God sending down a pillar of fire in an incredible show of his might. For Elijah, this must have been and unforgettable and emotion filled experience. It is a simple fact of human psychology that after extremely joy filled moments in our life we can often experience a letdown. So when this does happen remember that this is normal. When you feel discouraged after a great spiritual victory I would recommend that you take the time to remember what God just did for you in this very special time. Do not be like the fickle children of Israel who often rejected God right after he did something kind for them. Sometimes you will have to make a conscious effort to remember God’s goodness but it will be well worth it! It is also helpful to remember that God is going to continue to do great things with you. Philippians 1:6 says this “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (NIV). If you have been gloriously saved by Jesus Christ (And I hope that you have) and Jesus has not returned yet (Which he hasn’t) then you can be confident that God will continue to give you spiritual victories.

In 1st Kings 19:5-8 we are shown, albeit indirectly, another beautiful truth about God. While in the wilderness and still in the throes of depression God does not forsake Elijah. Rather, he feeds and cares for him by way of Angels. As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that God does not care for us only when we are faithful and bold, but even when we are broken. God’s love toward us is not conditioned upon our performance. Roman 5:8 echoes this thought in perfect harmony when it says “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (ESV). If you are discouraged, reflect on this truth and be encouraged by the goodness and faithfulness of God.

 

In 1st Kings 19:14 Elijah is quoted as saying “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.” Pretty much everything Elijah says in this statement was indeed true at the time with the exception of one phrase “I alone am left”. Sometimes when we are discouraged we blow things way out of proportion. Things were certainly bad in Israel in Elijah’s day but he had clearly lost perspective. For one, he was not alone because God the Father is still on his throne, Jesus is still Lord, and the Spirit is still at work. God has indeed promised us that he will “never leave us, nor forsake us.” For these reasons we should never fear being truly alone. We should also rejoice in the fact that God will always have a remnant of people on earth who will follow him. Consider the words of 1st Kings 19:18 “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.” God gently reminds Elijah that he is not the only person standing up for what is right and, by the way, modern Christian, neither are you. God in his grace has given us the Church-Not the building we worship in or hear the word of God preached but the people who make up the community of the redeemed. Dear Christian, when you are discouraged this is the time when you should lean on your fellow believers all the more. You should look to them for guidance, comfort, and care. All too many people when faced with struggles exit the church. This is the last thing you should do when you are discouraged. If you think that by leaving the church your problems will fade, then you are deceived. Cling to your fellow believers all the more. That is what God would have you do.

As you can see, the word of God has not left us without an answer as to what we should do when we are discouraged. In the previous paragraphs we have only considered one chapter of the Bible and It speaks directly to our present struggles. If I could leave you with one final encouragement I would simply say that if you are discouraged you should take even more time out of your day to search the scriptures for wisdom and encouragement. God has given us the Bible so that we might be taught, encouraged, and reproved. Sometimes the words of the scriptures challenge and sting but they are always instructive-And they will always draw us closer to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who has promised us that all who follow him will indeed find rest.

 

 

 

The Joy of Preaching

Beware of becoming a preacher. Preaching is addicting. No matter how much you preach you will never be satisfied. Preaching God’s word will energize you, particulary when you see people being saved! As I write this I am contemplating the joy of preaching at Calvary Baptist Church of Mcintyre, Georgia tomorrow and I could not be more excited and humbled to bring the message! If you are confident God is calling you to preach then start today! St Francis said “Preach Always, Use words when nessacary”. You can start fulfilling God’s call on your life right now. These days, technology gives you an instant audience. Think of how much nicer facebook would be with fresh insights into God’s word instead of the garbage that passes as thought provoking conversation on today’s blogoshpere. However, if you feel called to preach you must take this responsibility seriously. There is enough heresy in our world. Don’t become a part of the problem. Be a preacher who is part of the solution. While I am a young an inexperienced preacher, the following is a list of a few suggestions to anyone who is considering becoming a preacher. I have gleaned this knowledge from scripture as well as from Godly men in the ministry.

  1. Develop solid study habits- Many horrible and heretical sermons have been preached because young preachers have failed to study well. You may not be eloquent but you can be well studied. To be a good student does not mean you have to have a massive library or lots of commentaries. Many great resources are available online at sights like http://www.biblegateway.com. Also, listen to great and respected preachers of the faith. You will do well to listen to men like David Jeremiah, Billy Graham, Alistair Begg, and John Stott. You can also read fine sermons online by men like John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, and the Church Fathers. Finally, immerse yourself in the scriptures and learn from Jesus Christ, the greatest preacher to ever live. Remember the admonition of 2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to show thyself approved unto God”.
  2. Don’t see preaching as an opportunity to spout your opinions- I have heard several fine preachers express their opinion on a subject from the pulpit before. Sometimes their insight was valuable. Often, it was not. Remember that it is your job to preach the truth of the scriptures. Your opinions on a matter should be offered only occasionally and when appropriate. They should always be offered humbly. Do not become so arrogant to think that because you are a preacher you are infallible. You are not. There is only one infallible preacher. His name is Jesus.
  3. Preach whenever and wherever you have the opportunity- My Father In Law is a pastor of a thriving church. He has preached to saints and crackheads in ditches. Everyone needs to hear the Gospel. Jesus made this clear in the Great Comission given in Mathew chapter 28. Use discernment, but there is nothing wrong with preaching at nursing homes, prisons, country churches that can’t pay you a dime, homeless shelters and wherever you are asked. God has blessed me as a preacher in some of the most unlikely of places.
  4. Rely on the power of God- Read the book of Acts. The Holy Spirit was constantly and continually empowering Peter and Paul in their preaching. If they needed the power of God in their life, you do too!  The Holy Spirit will transform your preaching if you will let him.
  5. Seek to be ordained or liscensed by a respected church or denomination-There are many great preachers who are not ordained or liscensed by any church. You do not have to be liscensed or ordained to preach but it will only open doors for you.
  6. It is not about you- Be sure your preaching is always pointing people to the Gospel and glorifying God. If you do this God will honor your ministry and use you in ways you would have never imagined. Who would have thought that Peter, a man who denied the Lord publicly, would have become such a great preacher.? If God can use Peter he can use you so long as you realize you are not the focus. Christ must always be at the center of all you do. Let your motto always be Soli Deo Gloria!