Welcome to Eternity!

I spent this week at Eternity Baptist Church in Alamogordo, New Mexico, home of White Sands National Park and Air Force base. I was sent there to preach as part of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s “Revive the Nation” program. It was my first time preaching. After 25 years teaching in the classroom , speaking to thousands of people in  corporate  settings (mostly about money, marketing and success)  I was charged with delivering the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Gospel!!

Wow! Where to begin? Let’s sum it up by saying that lives were changed at this meeting, and revival is under way at Eternity Baptist Church. Not least, my life has been changed forever. I am not sure what path the LORD has in store for me, but this week was evidence that the LORD has me firmly in his grip. The Spirit moved in this church. People were rocked during the services, under conviction, and openly confessed their sins and sought counsel. These brothers and sisters reached out to one another, to those in the community they know are lost, and their love was nothing less than an explosion of God’s outpouring of grace. Their love for one another, their love for their pastor and his wife, and their love for me was overwhelming. These are simple folks, but people who are rich in ways other than wealth. They are exceedingly generous of their time, their homes, their resources. I said to them with all earnestness that their church family truly is a FAMILY. They are growing, now with 40-50 members, and they are out of fellowship and classroom space. They are ploughing ahead with a purchase of an adjoining property for Sunday School space.Their love for God and for one another drew me in. I became their co-pastor for this week. We shared our testimonies and openly repented and rededicated our lives to the LORD.

One anecdote: I greeted and handed a sermon outline to a guy, tough looking dude, who escorted his blind girlfriend into the church. He was closed, maybe even hostile in appearance and his body language was awful. He was wound up so tight his face muscles were clenched! I saw him after the service standing waiting for his girlfriend. I cautiously approached him to thank him for coming, and he immediately opened up to me. He said “I have to apologize. I came in here with a lot of anger. I had a bad day. I have a reputation for anger. The prisoners (found out he’s a prison guard at the Fed pen) know it and they knew today I was having a bad day. But your message really helped me. It took all that weight off me. I feel relieved. So thank you and I’m sorry for the anger I had coming in here.”  I told Mo it was the LORD who was speaking to his heart; I was only the messenger. I reminded him that Diana (his girlfriend) and a whole bunch of folks at Eternity were praying for him.Well, turns out Mo had tried a brutal suicide a couple of years ago and his job is clearly not the best therapy for anger management. The next night he came back and he greeted me (almost) warmly, and I asked him if he’d had a better day. He said he had and the prisoners had noticed. He thinks he may have even smiled!I suggested to him “Think of how many inmates you could lead to the LORD just by being transformed yourself!” In hindsight, though he did not come to the altar, I think he may be saved.

The last night of our meeting, Pastor  invited the people to come and give their thanks and regards to me at the front of the church. Well, I was smothered with love. One woman gave me a confession of a bitter anger she was holding, and everybody embraced me like a family member about to leave forever. Angry Mo and Diana waited until last to visit with me and Mo thanked me for preaching the Word to him. He said he was better but still had a lot of work to do. I told him to remember this: “When man works, man works; when man prays, God works.” I reminded him of my testimony– I too had a control problem– and by praying and meditating on the bible, by coming to know who God is, we can understand how helpless we are and powerless. At that truth we can yield our control to Jesus and gain peace. He embraced me and I told him I’d be checking up on him.

This was my first meeting and my first time preaching. I had never set foot in a Baptist church before 2009! Although I have been a professional teacher, coach and corporate speaker for many years, this was special. The LORD was working in this church and the Spirit filled every service and the message I delivered, unlike the thousands I have given before, was not my own. My first sermon was on Psalm 24, ” Who is This King of Glory.” On my my intro notes  I had jotted own: “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” since the Psalm speaks of Jesus as Creator and as King at his Second Coming. Lo and behold, the Scripture reading in between the opening hymns was Revelation 21, “I am the Alpha and the Omega.” Clearly, the pastor and I did not plan this meeting; the LORD had it firmly in his control! Same thing happened Sunday night as the last hymn introduced my message on the Rich Young Ruler. God is good! The tools I brought in terms of speaking and presenting were only tools God gave me for his Word to be proclaimed. People were moved, fell under conviction, one lost soul whom the church had been praying for for two years was saved the first service,  two families joined the church, and people fell down on their faces at the altar. Many folks came up to me for advice, wanting to learn more about my testimony. I gave financial planning advice (I am a Wall Street veteran) to two pastors and job advice to a woman–she had an interview in less than 48 hours.Praise the LORD for divine appointments. For a small church this was and is a big move of God. .

The LORD sent me to Alamogordo with a purpose, in fact many purposes, and his work was accomplished and is still being accomplished, in that church family and in me. Oh yeah, I am part of that church family! I was blessed to be there and the blessing I received has changed my life forever. I will never be the same person.Thank you, Jesus!

Published in: on March 18, 2011 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  

How Did the Wise Men Know?

“Where is He who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him”(Matt 2:2).

As I wander my Texas neighborhood I pass wonderful displays of the Christmas season. Prominent among these are the ever-present manger scenes, those tributes to the nativity of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. Sadly, I am struck by the amount of biblical illiteracy evidenced in the traditional nativity scene. The bible does not tell us these wise men were kings; rather, they were astrologer/magicians from the east. The bible does not place the wise men at the manger on Jesus’ birthday; in fact, they visit Jesus and his parents in a house (Matt 2:11) and it’s some time later, perhaps as much as two years later. We know that because Herod is eager to know when these men saw the star. Herod’s action in response to their reply is to kill every baby boy in Bethlehem two years and younger. Why two years and younger? Obviously the wise men were not about to visit the manger on Jesus’ birthday. It only makes sense that the wise men had first seen the star many months earlier.

There’s a bigger and more interesting question about what we think we know about the history of the birth of Jesus. If the wise men were merely foreigners who were exploring an astronomical anomaly in the sky, wouldn’t they have had a different set of questions than: Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? That hardly seems like a logical question for “scientists” recording a set of astronomical observations.

So I ask: what did these wise men know, when did they know it, and how did they know to ask that messianic, not astronomical, question?

The answer is, of course, in Scripture, but not in the Gospel of Matthew. We need to go back to the Old Testament and the Book of Daniel. Daniel, of course, was a prophet who had gained notoriety and influence at the court of the Babylonian king. This was over 500 years before the birth of Jesus. Daniel  made his name by correctly interpreting the prophetic dreams of Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s prophetic prowess had several important results. First, he established his credibility as a man through whom God worked. While the common Babylonian wisdom was that “magicians” or “wise men” could offer insight into the lives of kings and men by reading the stars, Daniel’s power came from God, not from reading the stars. When he appeared before Nebuchadnezzar to interpret his dream which none of the court magicians could decipher, Daniel made a point of ascribing his prophetic gift to God: “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and He has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will take place in the latter days” (Daniel 2:28).

By interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel gained the favor of the king and had a major impact on his beliefs.  Nebuchadnezzar in no uncertain terms ascribed glory to Daniel’s God:  Surely your God is a God of gods and a Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries, since you have been able to reveal this mystery” (Daniel 2:47).

Daniel’s prophetic gift had another important ramification. It saved the lives of all the Babylonian court magicians. Nebuchadnezzar had been so enraged at the inability of his own wise men to interpret his dream that he became indignant and very furious and gave orders to destroy all the wise men of Babylon.  So the decree went forth that the wise men should be slain” (Daniel 2:12-13).

Fortunately for these wise men, Daniel got the dream right! Surely these magicians were now quite in awe of the man they had previously been jealous of. After all he had saved their lives. It also must have amazed these seers that Daniel was the real deal: what he prophesied actually came true! As a result, they weren’t killed and they continued to work in the royal court. They also had a new boss: Daniel.  Daniel was so highly esteemed that Nebuchadnezzar made him chief of the magicians Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts, and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon and chief prefect over all the wise men of Babylon”  (Daniel 2:48).

 Here we have in Babylon a foreign king, responding to the testimony of Daniel, professing faith in the power of the God of Israel. We also have a whole school of Babylonian wise men that came under the tutelage of Daniel. They learned from him, and heard Daniel’s testimony of how the Most High God worked in him. It was this God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that was the source of Daniel s’ power, not the stars. Daniel must have shared the Scriptures with them and taught them of his God.

What evidence do we have in the Scriptures (the Old Testament) that pointed to the birth of Messiah? God revealed his plan for a Messiah as far back as the Book of Genesis. In Genesis 3:15 God declares: “And I will put enmity between you[the serpent] and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel.” The Messiah would not be born naturally, by the seed of a man, but supernaturally, with a divine Father. He would be the one who would defeat Satan and put him in his rightful place.

The Scriptures go on to describe the Messiah as being of the seed of Abraham. The seed of Abraham includes both those Jews and Gentiles who believe in the promise of God (Gal 3:8-9). The Messiah would be a Jew, but he would also be the one to carry the blessing of Abraham to all the nations (Gen 22:18, 12:3, 18:18). Paul confirms the connection betweeen Abraham’s promise and Christ in Galatians 3:16. “Now the promises were spoken to Abraham to his seed. He does not say , “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ.”  The Messiah would be from the seed of a woman and the seed of Abrahamand carry the promise of God to all nations.

The Messiah would be from the seed of Jacob. Balaam, a Babylonian,was used by God to deliver this message: “A star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel…And one from Jacob shall exercise dominion.” From the line of Jacob would emerge the Messiah, the King of the Jews. His sign would the appearance of a star.

The one born king of the Jews would be of the tribe of Judah. Jacob blessed his sons and declared: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah…until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his” (Gen 49:10).

The Messiah would be the son of David: “The LORD swore to David a sure oath…”One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne” (Psalm 132:11,17) see also Isa 11:1-10, Jer 23:5, I Chr 17:10-14.

The birth of Jesus is all over the Old Testament and the faithful would have been fully versed in the messianic prophesies. The Messiah  would be born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), preceded by a herald, i.e. John the baptist (Mal 3:1 and Isa 40:3-5), and would appear exactly 483 years after the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4) to rebuild Jerusalem (Dan 9:24-27). He would be the Son of God (Psalm 2:7-12, (Prov 30:4, Isa 9:6), and both God and man (Isa 9:6-7, Zech 12:10, Psalm 80:17, Psalm 110:1-7).

So what does this have to do with the wise men in Bethlehem five centuries later? It is clear that these wise men came to Judea not just with some recorded astronomical observations. They came with a certain knowledge that the sign they had seen in the east was a messianic sign that pointed to the birth of the Messiah of Scripture, the Messiah promised to the people of the God of Abraham. They came to worship, not to study. Their faith had been carried to Babylon by Daniel and been preserved there in the body of believers, who were given the Scriptures,  until the appointed time. God in his infinite wisdom  allowed the exile of his people to work for good, by spreading the good news of the coming of the King to a select group in Babylon. These wise men came to Bethlehem, not as scientists looking for research data, but as believers seeking to worship “He who has been born king of the Jews.” It wasn’t the stars that gave them their insight; it was the Word of God.

This Christmas season, let us seek the Lord not in the traditions of men, nor by looking to the stars or for extraordinary signs, but by asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate the Truth revealed to us in the Word of God.

Published in: on December 13, 2010 at 9:35 am  Comments (2)  

Making a Bold Defense of the Christian Life

In the second century, the world looked at the Christian “cult” as strangely out of touch with contemporary culture. Christians didn’t participate in the festivals and games honoring the pagan gods of the empire. They practiced a mystery religion, shrouded in secrecy (only baptized believers could participate in the Lord’s Supper), and were mostly composed of the rabble of society, the lower classes.  Ignorance led the world to suspect the worst of these Christians and prejudice, suspicion and persecution followed. As a major apologist for Christianity, Athenagoras wrote A Plea Regarding Christians. This work, addressed to the Roman emperor and his co-ruler, his son, outlines Athenagoras’ attempt to protect Christianity from outrageous charges and persecution on three specific counts: atheism, incest and cannibalism. Christians were suspected of atheism for their non-participation in the imperial cult of the gods. They were thought incestuous because of the frequent address of fellow believers as “brothers” and “sisters,” even husbands and wives.  The mysterious practice of communion involved the consumption of the body and blood of Christ—thus, cannibalism. In more general terms, Athenagoras proclaims in A Plea Regarding Christians, a wider Christian philosophy, in favor of certain principles of Christians and also of the culture in which they live, and against certain principles and practices of the culture.

For Athenagoras, Christians stood against the ignorance of the contemporary culture. The world was awash with false religious cults which created gods out of ridiculous men of myth, worshipped created matter in the form of wood, stone and metal statues. Amazingly, the culture which tolerated such ignorant practices and beliefs had singled out Christians for persecution, not based on crimes committed, but based on rumors. Whoever was said to go by the “name” of Christian was apparently worthy of judgment and condemnation. Athenagoras railed against intolerance in the light of such preposterous beliefs.

Athenagoras presented what Christians stood for as well. Christians were for philosophical expression, the unity of God in his power over creation, the separation of God from his material creation (avoiding worshipping the material world), the Trinitarian nature of God, the resurrection, and the accountability of man to a just God which drove Christians to live by a moral imperative.

In today’s society, we can use apologetics like Athenagoras did. What are we to stand for and argue against today? First we need to argue against the persecution of Christians based on prejudice and misperception. Simply bearing the name “Christian” today invites ridicule, slander and attack. Our country and our culture swear to love “tolerance” and “free speech” for all, but whenever a Christian speaks Biblical truth, the cries of the society ring out: we are “intolerant, ignorant, bigoted, and close-minded.” The ultimate irony is that the culture seeks to suppress our free speech through actions like “hate crimes” legislation.

Second, like Athenagoras, we can use apologetics to decry the idolatry of the world around us. The society is absorbed with all kinds of ridiculous beliefs and practices including astrology, mysticism and nature worship. Worst of all is the new religion where everyone is his own god, entitled to proclaim his own truth and organize his life around the moral standards he invents for his own self-gratification. Christians actually have a standard for truth, a belief system that exalts God and humbles the believer, and a Christian imperative that emphasizes living a life based on moral conduct and accountability before a perfectly just God.

Third, like Athenagoras, we can use apologetics to defend the foundations of Christian faith against those who call themselves Christian, but are wolves in disguise. The Trinity is rejected by many self-proclaimed church denominations and leaders; the Resurrection is either denied or deemed unnecessary. Apparently for many of today’s pseudo-Christians, doctrine is unimportant and unnecessary. What is important to these corrupt false churches is how individuals react to the “story” and “lessons” of Jesus, not who God is, or what Jesus actually did for us on the cross and through his resurrection.

Lastly, like Athenagoras, we are also for tolerance. We ask tolerance for ourselves and offer it, not because we accept the false beliefs of the surrounding world, but because we trust in God’s promise to redeem the world in his time and in his way. We need to pray for, preach to, and share the gospel and the Bible with the world around us. Apologetics can help us organize our struggle in an increasingly hostile world. Athenagoras showed us the way over 1800 years ago.

Published in: on September 15, 2010 at 10:50 am  Comments (1)  

The Test of a Christian Life

 Many people profess to be Christians with their lips but are they truly followers of Christ? What is the evidence that one is a Christian?

The Bible suggests that you shall know them by their fruits. But just what are these fruits? One place that the Bible shows us the fruits of a life truly “in Christ” is in the first epistle of John. Here the apostle lays out a number of signs that a person is a believer living in the spirit and walking in the footsteps of Jesus.  We can use 1 John as a test for whether we are walking in the light and as a guide for how to grow in spirit and in truth.

Straight out of I John, here are ten examples of the fruits of a Christian life that demonstrate that we are walking the walk with Christ, not just talking the talk.

1. Are we facing up to the fact that we are sinners or do we deny that we sin or that sin even exists? The admission that we are sinners in need of a Savior is the foundation  of the Christian life.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

2. Are we faithful to the Bible and follow Jesus’ commandments? This assumes that we read and study the Bible, believe that it speaks to us the truth and we obey its instructions.

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3)

3. Do we show love for our brothers  and sisters through Christian fellowship?

 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.  Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:14-15)

4.  Do we love the things of the world or do we devote ourselves first and foremost to the things of God? If we give priority to anything over and above God, we build an idol and sin against God.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. (1 John 2:15-16)

5. Do we profess the truth of the Gospel and the truth that is Jesus Christ? True Christians will never be ashamed of Jesus Christ and the Truth of the Bible.

Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:22-23)

6. Is our walk with Jesus evidenced by the total change in our lives that the Holy Spirit effected in us at salvation?  The biggest change is that we no longer “keep on sinning.” We still sin, but we demonstrate our new faith by repentance, by turning away from our sins.

We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.(1 John 5:18)

7. Does the world hate us? If we are in Christ we should expect to be treated just as he was treated by the world.

Do not be surprised, brothers, that the world hates you. (1 John 3:13)

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. (John 15:18)

8. Are we filled with fear and anxiety about our lives and our future? True faith is marked by trust in Jesus and his plan for each of us. That assurance that God is in control produces in us a spirit of peace and joy.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:16)

9. Are our prayers answered? God answers prayers that are in accord with his will and when we are obedient to his word. When we are obedient, we can trust God that he is faithful in his promises.

And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us. And if we know that he hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests that we have asked of him.(1 John 5:14-15)

10. Do we have understanding? The world does not and cannot understand what the Truth is. They cannot recognize Jesus as the Way and Truth and the Life. As believers, we understand the things of God. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the word of God, the Bible, becomes a light to our lives.

And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. (1 John 5:20)

For those who truly walk the walk in Christ, God promises nothing short of total victory over the world:

 For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5)

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 10:08 am  Comments (2)  

JESUS ON TRIAL: THE GOSPEL OF JOHN

 

 You may think that the trial of Jesus only takes place in the latter part of John’s gospel narrative; however, there is a trial motif running through the entire Gospel. What do we mean by a trial motif?  The narrative structure and story elements suggest that the evangelist John, rather than declare Jesus’ identity through a strictly historical account, deliberately weaved the story of Jesus into a type of courtroom drama. Jesus is the one on trial. The charge is that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. In the Gospel narrative, there are witnesses who testify in the course of their encounters with Jesus, both for him and against him. There is courtroom language sprinkled throughout the text, words like ‘witness’, ‘testimony’, ‘condemned’, ‘judged’. The Gospel characters all play parts in the trial of Jesus. The gospel offers an array of people who encounter Jesus, hear his teachings, watch his miracles, are healed themselves, threatened and reviled by Jesus. Each gets to bear witness to the truth about Jesus. Some say he is holy; others demonic.

Of all those who meet and interact with Jesus, there is one group of witnesses for the defense who openly state that Jesus is no ordinary man. These include John the Baptist:

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.” (John 1:7)

 John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.'”(John 1:15)

and the apostle Philip:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45)

The encounter with the woman at the well produces another strong witness, this one not a Jew, but a Samaritan:

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did’.”(John 4:39)

The man born blind told the Pharisees that Jesus had restored his sight because: “He is a prophet.” (9:17).

The witness who offers the most positive statements about Jesus is “the beloved disciple,” the evangelist John himself:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.(John 1:14)

 He who saw it has borne witness— his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth— that you also may believe.(19:35)

This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. (John 21:24)

There are also witnesses who are not living human witnesses, but yet offer testimony that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The Scriptures testify for Jesus, as Philip points to the Scriptures:

We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”(John 1:45)

Jesus also refers to evidence from the OT: “You search the Scriptures…it is they that bear witness.”(5:39). God himself offers testimony as Jesus declares “The Father who sent me bears witness.” (8:18). Jesus also calls on the Spirit, “who will bear witness about me.” (15:26). Finally, Jesus himself is a witness for his defense.

His miraculous works attest to his divinity (5:36, 14:11)

11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:11)

36But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.(John 5:36)

Jesus speaks on his own behalf:

 “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going.(John 8:14)

18I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me.”(John 8:18)

In the trial motif, John also introduces the other side: those opposed to Jesus, witnesses for the prosecution. Notable among these are   the chief priests and rulers:

When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, and crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” (John 19:6)

The chief religious authorities even move to silence the witnesses to Jesus ‘ miracles:

So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.(John 12:10)

John chose to employ the trial motif to engage the reader and put him in the courtroom.  As the reader navigates the story, he, like the characters, has to react to the evidence about Jesus. John ultimately puts the reader on trial for “there is a judge for those who do not believe” (12:48). If the reader decides for Jesus, there is a promise: “Whoever believes is not condemned.” (3:18).

In his trial motif, John turns his courtroom cameras from Jesus and the characters in the gospel to the reading audience and subtly asks:  Reader, what is your testimony? Is Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, and if so, have you believed and declared?

Published in: on June 10, 2010 at 4:15 pm  Comments (3)  

Who is This King of Glory?

 

Who is this King of glory?
  The LORD of hosts,
 he is the King of glory! (Psalm 24:8-10)
 

The Psalmist asks a seemingly simple question, and how we answer speaks volumes about our faith.

Every person who calls himself a Christian answers the question, but is every answer valid?  We all think we know who the King of Glory is. Yet in our age of apostasy and false prophets, how we identify the King of Glory and define His role in our lives and in human history divides the sheep, those who recognize and hear the voice of the Shepherd, from the goats.

Who is this King of Glory? To answer this question, let’s make it less formal and more personal. Let’s put it this way:

 The King of Glory:  Do you know Him?

Of course we know Him, many will answer. After all, I’ve gone to church my whole life. I was baptized when I was a child. I prayed the sinners’ prayer and walked down the aisle long ago. Today, I am quite active in my church.  I go to Sunday school. I tithe. I bring cookies for the sick. All in all, I certainly know the King of Glory! I know Him through church. I know Him through my religiosity.

The King of Glory: Do you know Him?

Of course I know Him. It’s Jesus of Nazareth. I’ve studied all about Him. He was Jewish and spoke Aramaic. The Old Testament prophets called Him “the Messiah” and wrote about His coming. He lived some 2,000 years ago and for three years led a ministry declaring the Kingdom of God and calling all to repentance.  He developed a band of followers and performed miracles and drew the ire of the Jewish leaders and the Roman authorities who ruled Judea. They conspired to get rid of him and had him unjustly put on trial and executed by crucifixion. He rose on the third day and told his followers to take His message of the Kingdom to the ends of the earth. His followers thus started the church and wrote His story down in a book called the Bible. Indeed I know Him, this King of Glory. I have read all about Him. He is present in history.

The King of Glory: Do you know Him?

Of course I know Him. His message is recounted in the Bible. His sayings and teachings are collected there and I know many of these scripture verses by heart.  Jesus was a great teacher and I have studied what He taught in classes and books and on the internet.  I know Him because I can explain how Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was a propitiation for our sins, how we are justified, and made right before God by His paying our fine. I understand how we must be born again or “regenerated”, made a new creation by the Holy Spirit, how we are made one with Christ, and empowered by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. How we are called and enabled to become sanctified, or made holy in the sight of God. I can tell you the Biblical teaching on Jesus’ Second Coming, how He will come not as in His first coming, to save, but to judge the lost. Certainly I know the King of Glory. I have lots of information about His message. I know Him through my intellect.

We say we know Him through our religion. We say we know Him through history. We say we know Him through our intellect. But can we truly know Him in any of those ways? The verb “to know” has two meanings. On the one hand it is used in relation to knowing information, or a set of facts. We can “know” that George Washington was the first president. Similarly we can know that Jesus was the Messiah. But we also use “to know” in the sense of having a relationship. Do you know Will Stevens? That question implies something very different from the parallel construct: Do you know George Washington? We also use “to know” in the sense of having a personal relationship, a direct encounter with someone. “Do you know Will Stevens” means: have you met him, do you know something of him, have you interacted with him, is he your friend, and do you love him?

When we ask “Do you know the King of Glory,” we are not just asking if we know Jesus like we know George Washington. Certainly most of us can say we know something about Jesus. We can know him through our study of history, or through our intellectual understanding of what His message was. But do we know him personally? Have we had a direct encounter with Him? Is he our friend? Do we love Him? Is our relationship with Him continuous, growing, developing, deepening, as a living personal relationship? We may think we know Him because we have made a cursory pass at meeting and knowing Him. Making a profession of faith with the lips, walking down the aisle at an altar call, being baptized—these all may be evidence of a relationship, but a ceremonial act, like shaking hands with someone does not necessarily imply the forging of an intimate relationship. I shook hands and had breakfast with Penn State football coach Joe Paterno once. Does that mean I know him? Hardly.

Do you know the King of Glory?

Jesus says “I am the way, the truth and the life”(John 14:6). To know Him means to know that we have a direct active, personal relationship with Him. We walk along His way, and by that we mean we are obedient to His Word. Of course, a relationship has two sides and as we walk along His way, He walks beside us—every single step. We know Him through His Truth. He revealed the Truth to us and continues to reveal it to us in His Word, the Scriptures.  His truth is that we are saved by faith and repentance –believing in Him, Jesus, as the Son of God, crucified and raised for us, and as Lord, for whom we repent and turn from our sinful lives. He is life to us, for we are dead to ourselves, and we live as a new creation through Jesus. We are not alone. Our life in Christ begins here and now and stretches into all eternity.

Do you know the King of Glory?

Our relationship with Jesus, contrary to the name it and claim it preaching one hears these days, is bilateral. We ask Jesus to be our Advocate and intercede with the Father for us. At the same time, Jesus places demands on us:

Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”(Matthew 11:29-30)

 Jesus demands that we obey Him.

“If you love me, you will follow my commandments.”  (John 14:15)

 The commandments that Jesus has laid out for us are many; nine of the Ten Commandments of the Mosaic Law are reiterated by the Messiah. Jesus summed up the Law for us when he said:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

If we know the King of Glory only in the sense of our religious works, we do not truly know  Him. If we only know Him as the Jesus of history, we do not truly know Him. If we know Him only in our head as a set of encyclopedic facts, we do not truly know Him. We only know Him when we acknowledge Him as an intimate friend. We only know Him when we accept Him as our personal Savior. We only know Him when we rely on Him as our personal Advocate in heaven before God the Father. We only know Him when we acknowledge Him as LORD and Master and obey His commandments. In obedience, we can count on His living presence as He walks beside us every day, tied to the same light yoke He offered us at salvation. It is when we listen to His voice and demonstrate our faith through repentance and obedience that we can be sure we have a personal relationship with a living Jesus. Then we can say we truly know Him, our King of Glory.

Published in: on May 5, 2010 at 12:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Sharing the Gospel: One-on-One Evangelism

Throughout the Bible, God uses human agents to accomplish His eternal purpose. He chose Israel from out of all the peoples in the world to be His people. He chose Moses, speech impediment and all, to lead His people out of bondage. He chose Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of followers of Christ, to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. He chose His church, believers in every age, to carry His Truth to the lost. Therefore, even now, we have a role to play in God’s redemptive plan. We are called to witness to the world and act as agents through whom God the Father can draw to Himself all those He would save through His Son, Jesus Christ.

We all are sincere in wanting others to hear the Good News and be transformed, as we have been, into a new creation. How can we fulfill this commission in our daily lives?  How can we be bold and smart in approaching others and telling them what Jesus has done for us and what He is ready to do for them? It is a question that paralyzes most of us. It’s hard to seize on opportunities and find the right words to say. After all, we don’t want to offend anyone, and we don’t want to come across as religious zealots, right? Being arrogant and obnoxious won’t win souls. What then is the best way to approach people with the Gospel? One guideline to follow in evangelizing is to study and imitate what Jesus did.

Suppose you have a witness opportunity that is ripe for you to take action. A friend sees you reading the Bible all the time (do your friends see you with your Bible?) and one day comes up to you and sincerely asks, “What do you get from that old Bible anyway?”

What do you tell him? Where do you start? Not sure? Let’s see how Jesus handled the situation.

In the story in Luke 18, when the young ruler approaches Jesus, he is excited and asks the question, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t immediately give him a set of instructions. He doesn’t tell the young ruler to pray a prayer, or go read the scriptures, or join a fellowship group of disciples. The first thing Jesus seizes on is the young rulers’ use of the word “good” to address him. “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” (Luke 18:19). He then turns the conversation into a dialogue about the Law of God. Jesus asks him if he knows and keeps the Law. As Jesus runs through a select checklist of the Law, the young ruler confidently states that he knows these commandments and obeys every one! In the mind of the young ruler he has just passed Jesus’ test; he is so self-righteous that he seeks and expects Jesus’ approval.

You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” (Luke 18:20-21)

But Jesus knows his heart (which deceives) and presses on with the Law to uncover the man’s spiritual nakedness.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

When He tells the young ruler to sell all he has and follow Him, Jesus has struck the raw nerve that exposes this self-righteous seeker as merely a sinner in need of repentance. The point of the Law that the young ruler has buried deep inside himself is idolatry. Jesus reveals to the young ruler his hidden sin—that he has made his wealth into a god and treasures it above the One True God. He would rather hold onto his money than embrace the Author of Salvation, Jesus Christ.

In a nutshell, here is revealed Jesus’ evangelism process. Jesus holds up the mirror of the Law and shows the young man that he is included in the statement “no one is good.” That’s the diagnosis. He then offers the prescription: repentance and faith. By selling all he has, the young ruler would demonstrate repentance, turn from his sin, and then direct his gaze and his steps in the direction of Jesus: “and follow me.” Faith means believing in Jesus as Savior and trusting in Him for everything.

We can use the Law like a mirror as Jesus did when we engage people in Christian evangelism. Start by asking that inquiring friend a simple question: Do you think you’re a good person? Like the young ruler, most people will say yes. Then follow up a few more questions:

How many lies have you told in your life?

Have you ever taken anything that didn’t belong to you, even something small (your fair amount of taxes, a sibling’s toy, food in the refrigerator, office supplies at work, etc.)?

Have you ever used God’s name in vain, as a cuss word or phrase?

Have you ever committed adultery or lusted in your heart for someone?

No one can stand innocent before the Law. Your friend, if he is honest will admit he falls short of these standards (and that’s just four points you’ve brought up). He  may of course, declare himself  innocent  by professing that he is doing his best and is much better than most other people he knows.  He may even state that God won’t judge him on little sins like white lies or taking pencils from work or having sexual thoughts about another. That’s his god, however, not the God of the Bible. So he has created a god according to his own design and therefore is guilty of idolatry too!

The Bible teaches that God is a good God, a loving God, a just God and a holy God. In fact He is perfectly holy and perfectly just and perfectly good. He cannot be perfect and still allow sin in His presence or allow sin to go unpunished. Ask your friend if his daughter were raped and beaten, what would he think if the judge allowed the offender to go unpunished? Would that make him a good, loving judge?

 Notice where you have steered the conversation. Your friend has admitted to being a lying, blasphemous, adulterous- at- heart (and perhaps idolatrous) thief. He acknowledges that God, to be just, must punish sin. Now comes the $64,000 question. When your friend stands before the judgment seat of Christ, in light of the Law just reviewed, will a perfectly just judge, God Himself, find him guilty or innocent? Guilty. And what is the punishment for guilt on judgment day? Hell—eternal separation from God and torment in the lake of fire.

That’s the bad news. Ask your friend if the reality of eternal damnation concerns him. It should because God has given him a conscience and the Holy Spirit works to convict him. Now that he understands his position before a just and holy God, a position of utter helplessness doomed to damnation, you can deliver the Good News of how God has worked to save him from Hell. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to earth as a man to take his sins upon Himself and pay his fine.  God substituted (for us) His Son, who was sinless and blameless, as a perfect sacrifice to satisfy His perfect justice. Through His blood we are cleansed. Through His punishment we are pardoned.  Through His death and resurrection we can live forever. Jesus paid your friend’s fine! He is free to go to heaven.

That is indeed good news—the best news anyone can ever hear!

What must he do to receive salvation? He must profess faith in Jesus as Savior, believe that Jesus is the Son of God, died for our sins, and that He was raised from the dead. Then submit to Him as Lord, repent and turn from his sins. The Holy Spirit will strengthen him to do that with all his heart and soul and strength, and through Jesus Christ he will become a new creation.

Now is the time to pray with him for the gift of faith and the miracle of salvation! Counsel your friend to read the Bible (start with the book of John), help get him connected to a local church and help him to pray, pray, pray! If the friend does not see the light at that moment, tell him you care about him and implore him to think and pray about what he just heard and read the Bible. Ask him if he has one. If not, get him one. You have shined the light of Truth upon him; now it is up to the Holy Spirit to convict him and unharden his heart.

When we are at a loss at how to steer a spiritual conversation to the Gospel, remember how Jesus did it. He held up the Law like a mirror and allowed sinners to convict themselves and become aware of and acknowledge their need for a Savior. Once they understood the bad news, He then offered them the Good News, that by repenting of their sins and following and trusting in the Lord, they will be saved! Go hold up that mirror of the Law to someone you care about—today!

Published in: on April 24, 2010 at 10:19 pm  Leave a Comment  

Fish Fry Evangelism: A New Yorker Deep in the Heart of Texas

One Friday afternoon I joined a group of men from my church on an evangelism road trip.  We accompanied our pastor, Brother Jim, to a large church in North Texas where he was to preach the gospel of salvation to a men’s group.  Now this wasn’t just any men’s group.  The event was the annual area fish fry and it was by all reckoning at least the 20th year they’ve held it.  It was sponsored by a group called the Fishers of Men.  I met the founder, a spry 82 year-old who actively ministers weekly at a halfway house and almost daily at the local Wal-mart.  The Fishers of Men annual event centers on a huge buffet of fried foods:  fish, shrimp, hush puppies and French fries.  Men come from a host of area churches.  What they have in common is a certain attachment to a church community and a large attachment to the fishing community.  Needless to say there were lots of Bass fishing garb—hats, shirts, etc.  I had had a tough time figuring out what to wear.  Despite living in Texas for seven years, I do not own cowboy boots or 10-gallon hat.  I wisely chose my best Johnny Cash outfit—all black.  I figured Johnny Cash would fit in anywhere country music might be heard!  The pre-meal conversation I eavesdropped on offered lots of references to various fishing spots—nearby lakes whose names I didn’t recognize  where all kinds of piscatorial wonders live, breed and try but seem to always fail to elude dedicated Texas anglers.  Being a big city boy I found this all quite anthropological.  It was like witnessing a tribe of some remote outback region –replete with a culture centered on interaction with nature, search for food (here in the form of fish) and the male bonding that hunter-gatherers act out in dress, language, ritual and celebration.

 Pardon the digression.  Back to the fish fry revival meeting itself.  The buffet line dissolved, the men seated and eating, and the host got up on stage to introduce the evening’s program and we began.  The large gym had about 50 tables and seated about 300 men.  The sound system was barely adequate—a hand held microphone boomed through the gym’s loudspeakers and the words ran into and over each other with a thunderous reverb.  Couple the cacophonous sound with the Texas drawl of our MC and I just about needed to ask for a translator.  The first one up on the program was a singer with a guitar who mouthed a spoken song with a Gospel theme.  I have to guess because I really couldn’t follow the story.  The men munching away on the fried feast hardly seemed interested.  There was still a murmur across the room of settling in, and I didn’t get the sense that this group was here for anything more than the food.  I began to worry that our preacher‘s upcoming  address was going to echo in the huge gym and miss all the ears the message was designed to strike.  A glimmer of hope emerged as the next man up on stage, a singer, belted out a magnificent gospel song backed by a pre-recorded CD track.  The guy was really good and with his deliberate pacing and careful phrasing I even understood him.  He got a half-hearted but sincerely offered ovation.

As the MC introduced the main speaker, our pastor, I grew uneasy again.  There was still some buffet line activity, and we could clearly hear the clatter of activity in the kitchen area.  Could they really be cleaning up in the middle of the program?  The backdrop included a cell phone ringing in the kitchen and resultant live rude conversation.  I glanced around and became disheartened.  The looks on the faces of the attendees were less than enthusiastic.  I feared they were ready to go back to eating and talking fishing; certainly anything but listen to a preacher angling to hook them on Jesus.

I sensed a real foreboding that this evangelism effort was doomed to failure for several reasons.  First, we had a room full of fried food-gulping fishing buddies hardly ripe for a sermon from a loud-mouthed (I say that with love) Baptist preacher.  Second, Pastor Jim, who is as passionate and on fire as any preacher you’ll ever see, would be working with a hand-held microphone with a cord flowing behind.  It would be like putting a roaring lion on a leash.  He usually preaches with a wireless headset and can freely pace, wander, and stomp right down amidst the audience.  Third, the sound system was too bassy and loud, and Brother Jim, who had a penchant for getting fired up in the Spirit, tended to yell and whoop and holler.  I feared he would fracture the tweeters and tear the woofers.  Fourth, there was the clatter in the kitchen and the cell phone conversations of somebody who thought he was out of earshot of the gym audience.  All in all, I concluded there would be nary a soul get saved this evening.

Pastor Jim preached a short (in fact, much shorter than what I was used to) focused message:  that Jesus was knocking at the door to each man’s heart.  He knocked through the Spirit, through sorrow, sickness, suffering, supper (the fish fry), and through Scripture—but He was there in that room knocking for us.  Brother Jim proclaimed  the need to open our hearts to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and not be fooled into the  inadequacy of belief (in the head) without a complete surrender to Jesus (of the heart), and the fallacy of thinking that a sinners prayer on the lips and a walk down the aisle one day guaranteed a secure salvation.  Brother Jim called for a complete surrender and transformation in Christ.  He talked about famous tombs of the world—the tomb of the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, the grave of Audie Murphy in Arlington National Cemetery, the tomb of Mohammed in Mecca.  All are famous for the bodies contained therein.  But one tomb stands out above all others—the tomb of Jesus.  It is famous, not for the body found inside, but for the body not found inside.  The tomb proclaims to the world that Jesus is not to be found there—He is alive!  He is in our midst, and He stands and knocks at our hearts in order to enter in and save us.

All in all it was a powerful, direct assault on the comfort zones of both the natural (unsaved) man and the nominal self-proclaimed Christian who feels smug in his church membership, attendance and a memory of a long-ago forgotten empty sinner’s prayer session.  While the message was spot on, I fretted that the atmosphere and audience were working against him.  The body language and facial expressions of the audience were either blank or even a bit hostile.  They seemed to be saying either “Who cares?” or “Who is this short stranger /preacher questioning my Christian credentials?”  Add it all up – unreceptive crowd, awful sound, the kitchen staff murmuring on the phone – and I wondered, “How can this revival possibly work?”

The climax of the evening came and Brother Jim gave his invitation.  He called on the men to unharden their hearts, proclaim their helplessness before Jesus and surrender to Him then and there.  As we prayed with heads bowed and eyes closed, I was convinced that nobody in that atmosphere would respond.

 To my utter amazement, when Brother Jim asked for all those who had professed Jesus as Lord and Savior to publically proclaim their new faith and raise their hands, I heard his rapid fire cry of “God bless you, sir, God bless you, sir”  echo across the gym.  I lost count as each “God bless you, sir” rang out.  It was an avalanche of souls falling down before the LORD!  In that gymnasium!  With that horrible sound system!  With the cell phone conversations! With the buffet line aromas wafting through!  With the hardened icy faces of these self-professed Christians! 

The men who declared for Jesus and surrendered their lives that night were led outside to be counseled by the home church pastor.  The final tally was 31 men saved.  My skepticism had been fueled by the shortcomings of the human elements of the evangelistic effort. At the end, however, I was overcome by a realization that these conversions, these men being regenerated in that seemingly hostile atmosphere, owed it all to the power of God.  I was humbled and amazed and found myself overwhelmed and in tears as the power of Jesus Christ flooded me and all around me.  I had made a mental list of careful calculations of all the human elements of this fish fry revival and concluded that the event was doomed to failure.  I had forgotten the one essential element of revival and of salvation—the presence of Jesus Christ and the working of the Holy Spirit to convict men of their lost state.  The power of God requires no human props—no sound systems, no great cathedrals, no soaring music.  The Spirit blows where it will.

I was truly astounded at the result.  Pastor Jim and our carload of men knelt on the lawn outside the church and praised God that His power had filled the assembly and touched these men’s hearts.  Brother Jim acknowledged that these men would be like the 10 lepers that Jesus miraculously healed.  Only one of the ten returned to thank Jesus.  But the pastor acknowledged that even if only one were truly saved then our mission was a success.

As I reflect back on that night I can sense both the power of Jesus Christ and the joy of evangelism.  Brother Jim in his long ministry has seen thousands drawn by the Father to His Son through His Word.  There is satisfaction in the successful fishing of men, in the Good News delivered to and received by the lost.  But I sense that the real joy lies in the experience that God directs His perfect and perfecting power to work through imperfect human vessels and reach imperfect men to His glory and our benefit.  It wasn’t the fish fry or the sermon or the fellowship or the witnessing that saved these 31 men—it was the true saving power of Jesus Christ. The tomb is empty. He is alive!

Published in: on April 12, 2010 at 10:01 am  Comments (1)  

Our Kinsman Redeemer Lives!

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace which he lavished upon us. (Ephesians 1:8)

As we mark the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, let us remember not just its historical truth, but its meaning for our lives today. Redemption is an act of God by which He Himself paid a ransom for the price of sin-our sin. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ make sense of and give meaning to our lives. It is only in the light of sin and alienation from God that we can make sense of the evil of the world and in each of us. It is only though Jesus Christ that we can find hope for ourselves and for the world.

In the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ we have the workings of our Kinsman Redeemer. The kinsman redeemer (‘goel’ in Hebrew) is a role defined in the Law and fulfilled throughout the narrative of Old Testament history.   The kinsman redeemer had several roles. He could:

  • Redeem a relative out of slavery (whether the relative was a slave by birth, capture, or debt)
  • Redeem a relative’s property that had been sold in financial distress
  • Raise up a successor to a near relative (through the widow of the ‘brother’)

 To act as kinsman redeemer, a man had to meet five requirements.  He had to be:

  • a near relative
  • free himself ( a slave could not redeem a slave)
  • willing to pay the price of redemption
  • able to pay the price
  • able to produce the price of redemption (no credit)

 Jesus is our perfect redeemer.

You know that you were ransomed (redeemed) from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18)

He performed three functions of the redeemer on our behalf.

First, he freed us from slavery. In our natural state, we are fallen, and enslaved to sin. By dying for us, he freed us from our slavery to our sinful nature. We are still sinners, yet we are no longer held captive by our sinful nature. Jesus redeemed us from our inherited condition of slavery- the slavery of sin.

  For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.         (Romans 6:23)

Second, Jesus redeemed our property rights. What property rights? We were given a perfect home, the Garden of Eden. However, through sin, we were expelled. Jesus has redeemed our rights to be in His Kingdom once more—a right we could in no way earn for ourselves, but that He had to purchase for us.

Third, Jesus established His church, a successor to the chosen people, Israel. That remnant of believers includes both believing Jews and Gentiles. At His Second Coming, a remnant of each tribe of Israel will be gathered, redeemed, and folded into the church.

Jesus met all five requirements for Kinsman Redeemer.

  • He is our near kinsman.

 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. (Hebrews 2:17-18)

  • He was willing to pay the price.

 …even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28)

  • He was able to pay the price.

Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Hebrews 7:25)

  • He was free Himself.

 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

  • He had the price of redemption. The price he willingly paid was his blood.

You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. (1 Corinthians 7:23)

 …knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:18-19)

 We need be mindful then of the mercy that God showed for us by rescuing those who believe from the chains of sin and the eternal punishment that is our due.  It was through our Kinsman Redeemer, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that we became free. By His resurrection we who believe are raised from the deadness of sin to newness of life, and the promise of eternal life.

On Resurrection Sunday, let us proclaim “Christ is Risen,” and rejoice that our Redeemer lives!

“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and at last he will stand upon the earth;
  and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    then from my flesh I shall see God. (Job 19:25)

Published in: on April 4, 2010 at 8:59 am  Comments (1)  

Memorial Stones: Reminders of God’s Work in Our Lives

In the book of Joshua, God miraculously parts the waters of the River Jordan, finally delivering Israel into the Promised Land. 

 The LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.

So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away …

Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan. (Joshua 3:7,14-17)

 As soon as they had crossed, God ordered Joshua to have a select group of men extract stones from the Jordan River and build a memorial on the site of their first camp at Gilgal. 

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua,  “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests’ feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.'” (Joshua 4:1-4)

He also decreed that they place another memorial of stones in the center of the Jordan River they had just crossed.  This river memorial would only be visible in a time of drought when the river level dropped considerably.

And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the covenant had stood; and they are there to this day.(Joshua 4:9-10)

Why did God mandate these memorial stones? It was God’s intention that Israel would use these memorials as a teaching tool to let their children know what great miracles God had done for Israel.

 When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it passed over the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4:6-7)

In this example of God actively working in history for His chosen people, God had caused the Jordan River, bursting with the melted spring mountain snows, to completely dry up so that all Israel could cross.  The memorial stones were symbols that Israel had reached their destination through the grace of God.  The memorial stones also were a symbolic roadblock; once across the Jordan, Israel would see the stones and be reminded that it could never go back again. When Moses led Israel on its first passage out of Egypt, they also were delivered across water, the Red Sea, by a miracle of God, but they had not built any memorial.  For 40 years, they complained bitterly to Moses about their fate and many expressed a desire to return to Egypt.  This time, God instructed Joshua to mark Israel’s deliverance with stone memorials.  God wanted visual, physical means to remind Israel that they should remember God’s miraculous and powerful hand in their past and to keep their eyes on the future.  

The second memorial, in the middle of the Jordan River, had a different purpose.  In the middle of the river itself, this stone memorial would only be visible when the waters were dried up.  These times would represent the dry times in Israel’s life.  In Israel’s times of trials and suffering and despair, the memorial stones would remind them that God reigns, and is working in their lives, even when times are tough and it seems He has abandoned them.  There would be no forgetting God and no temptation to cross back over as Moses’ flock had demanded.

Later, Israel established another stone memorial.  This time a stone would stand as a testament, not to the acts of God, but to the living Word of God.  The Book of the Law of God and its stone marker together would stand as witness to the commands that God had given Israel in the Promised Land.

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, “Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God.” (Joshua 24:25-27)

 These three memorial stones occupied both geographical and historical footprints of God.  That is, the memorial stones marked a locus of God’s actions; a permanent reminder of a particular place on the map where God miraculously delivered Israel into its promised land.  The stones also served as a historical marker in time, a reminder that God works through His people and for His people throughout history.  It is He that plans and delivers on His promises throughout time.  His intervention in the past is a record and a reminder of His sovereign authority over His creation.  Lastly, the memorial stones also connected Israel, not just to the actions of God, but to His promises and commandments as well.

If Israel’s memorial stones represent God’s work and a crossing over into the promised land, what memorial stones does each of us  have in our lives? How can we mark our crossover from spiritual death to eternal life?  Let us consider three.

 First, we can mark God’s work in our lives by the historical marker of the day of our spiritual birth. Before the foundations of the world, God has appointed a time for us to be born, a time to die, and also a time to be born of the Spirit.  The day we become a new creation is a day when God performs His greatest miracle: taking a spiritually dead person, deaf to the Gospel, and melts our hearts and enters into us.  The day the Holy Spirit convicts us of our wretchedness and causes us to surrender to and cry out for our only hope, a Lord and a Savior, Jesus Christ, is God’s historical marker in our lives.  It is a day He ordains and we celebrate and it should be permanently marked. We glorify God in our salvation, as living markers of God’s supernatural work of regeneration in each of us.

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18) 

Our second memorial stone is a day of our making, the day we publicly testify to our new life in Christ, the day of our baptism.  We should mark that day as the day we are buried with Christ and risen to newness of life.

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5)

As a public act, our baptism is a memorial of our death to our old life that our fellow Christians can witness and bear testimony to all our lives.  

 Third, scripture serves as a memorial stone to our lives in Christ.  When we are devoted to diving into His Word each day, we constantly revisit God’s wisdom through the Bible’s stories and lessons.  At different times in our lives, atop the mountaintops of spiritual joy, and amid the valleys of despair, God’s Word speaks to us and provides us what we need.  We might consider making a practice of reading and meditating on a Proverb each day corresponding to the date.  For example, each month on the seventh, we could read chapter 7, the corresponding chapter of Proverbs.  March 7: Proverbs 7.  The Proverbs’ verses never change, but our lives surely do.  That day’s chapter of Proverbs, revisited monthly, will conjure up memories of how specific verses have spoken to us, impacted, guided, chastened, warned and comforted us.  Our daily Proverbs chapter meditations then can become memorial stones marking our lifelong journey with Christ. 

 The Word of God is a faithful witness to how God has worked and continues to work in our lives.  When we peek over a shoulder in church and see a heavily notated Bible in the hands of a brother or sister, we can wonder how many powerful memorial stones must be contained in those inked marginal notes. There are memorial stones on each page of our personal Bibles, connecting scripture verses to significant life experiences:  moments of illumination, times of trials, times of troubles, times of sorrows, moments of transformation and times of celebration.  Every time we revisit the Bible we are revisiting memorial stones– markers of our walk with Christ.

Brothers and Sisters, we need to take special care to establish and maintain our memorial stones.  We need them to remind ourselves of God’s active, continuous, faithful role in our lives.  We can use them to teach our children how God is omniscient and omnipresent even when it seems He is quiet or when we despair that He has forgotten us.  Our memorial stones also stand as landmarks to the world that we have crossed over into a new life in Christ, that our trust is in Jesus Christ, and that we will never go back again for He continues to sustain us.  If we make these memorial stones permanent and meaningful they become a record of our walk with God, renew our strength in the spiritual warfare, and testify to the world our resolve to be a separate people, sustained by the LORD.  Let us all check our memorial stones today and every day!

Published in: on March 25, 2010 at 9:45 am  Comments (2)