Saturday, December 22, 2012
Another thing we have seen a lot of is a search for where we place the blame. Many have pointed their fingers at an American society that puts very few limits on guns. Their feeling is that if we put tougher restrictions on gun ownership, these things will not happen. Others, on the opposite end of the spectrum, believe that had the school principal been armed when she went out to confront the assailant, it could have ended right there. There are some religious leaders who point a finger at a society that has systematically removed God from the schools, from the work place, from anywhere that is considered a public place but is not a place of worship. And yes, there are many who place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the politicians. They believe that politicians that no longer seem to have any desire to work together on any front have led our country down the tubes. Nothing gets done because partisan politics in this country has died and drug this country down to the grave with it. The moral compass of our politicians on every side of the political spectrum has so decayed that the citizenship they have been charged with leading has followed their lead and thus the country, as a whole has no moral compass. There are fingers pointing in other directions as well. It seems each side has passionate arguments, and to a certain degree there appear to be valid points for each consideration.
Like much of the rest of this country, I have struggled greatly with what took place on Friday, December 14, 2012. I have also struggled with who to blame. As I stated earlier, I suppose that to a certain degree, each of the areas discussed above have some merit when it comes to blame. But could it be that the lion’s share of the blame lies somewhere else entirely? As I have thought about it over the past several days, my mind keeps going to the same area for who is ultimately to blame. Please understand that it really pains me to write this, but I believe that the church is to blame. That’s right, the church. By the church, I want to clarify exactly what I am talking about. I am not talking about any specific church, nor any specific denomination. That being said, I do want to be a little more specific. The church I am referring to is the evangelic church as a whole. That group of individuals, nationwide, that profess to be Bible believing Jesus followers. We have put our faith and trust in Jesus, rarely miss a Sunday and are even in the habit of serving in some capacity.
Perhaps as you read this you are thinking to yourself, these folks sound like they are pretty sharp individuals, how could they possibly be blamed? Allow me to answer your question with a question. What are we, as Bible believing Jesus followers called by God to do? Yes, I understand that we have been given several directives, but I would like to highlight 2, 2 directives given by God to us that, if we follow whole heartedly, have the potential to make such an impact that it may even stop our own Newtown, CT experience. So what are these 2 directives? Well let me show them to you, lets look at Luke 10:25-37. I’m pretty sure you will be very familiar with this story. It is The Parable of the Good Samaritan.
25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And He said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
While the lawyer asked Jesus “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus answer was to give him a vivid picture of what a real neighbor looks like. After giving him that picture Jesus simply asked; “Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
So what does this parable have to do with Newtown CT? As I am in the habit of doing, let me follow that question with another question. A pretty telling question, and in my own case a pretty convicting question. Actually the question has already been asked, it was asked by the lawyer who was addressing Jesus in Luke 10:25-37. And who is my (your) neighbor? Who are your neighbors? What do they do enjoy doing with their free time? What are they like? What are the chances they would knock on your door if they really needed someone to talk to? Ok, I get it; this wasn’t 1 question but several questions. The point is, if the majority of us were to answer this question honestly, we don’t really know the answers to most of those questions. When we arrive home from work, or shuttling the kids around, or from our errands or…….or from church. We push the button to open the garage and before we are out of the vehicle the garage door is on its way down. We relax on our back deck rather than a front porch. Sure, most of us may not have a front porch, but to be truthful, chances are even if we had a front porch we would still go to the back deck. We like our privacy. But there is a problem with this. God has not called us to be saved into seclusion. He has called us to be saved into the mission field. The “Jerusalem” Jesus is referring to in Acts 1:8 for us, is right where we live. Not just our neighborhoods, it where we work, where we go to school, the places we go for recreation. It’s where we live out our lives’ on a day to day basis.
Let’s go back to Newtown, CT. What do you suppose are the chances that Adam Lanza had people in his neighborhood that were Bible believing Christians? Let’s not limit this to just his neighborhood. Really, shouldn’t we include others he came in contact with on a regular basis? Now let’s go back to you and me, our “neighborhood”. Could there be an Adam Lanza living near us? I would imagine that if each of us really put some thought into it, we could come up with someone who is similar in a lot of ways to Adam Lanza; quiet, a loner, sort of strange, maybe a little backward. We have seen them walk by our house a few times, usually we kind of turn the other way, or go back inside the house or garage, pretend to be busy doing something, anything, anything but smile and say “Hi” or “How’s it going?” They kind of scare us, perhaps rightly so. But is that how God has called us to react? Much of the time Jesus seemed more at home with the sinners than He did the religious. It also seemed the sinners gravitated towards Him, but not because He did what they did, not at all. It was because He accepted them, He loved them. He didn’t look down His nose at them, didn’t mumble under His breath about them or think to Himself, “What a loser!”
In our circles, you can’t be much more of a loser that The Woman At The Well. She was a half breed who had lost count of how many men she had slept with. She was filth through and through, but before Jesus was done with her she was clothed in His righteousness. Shouldn’t that be our desire for the Adam Lanza’s God brings us into contact with? I know, we may not be able to reach them no matter how hard we try, but shouldn’t we at least try? What a fool David was to go to battle against a giant who was covered in body armor, had a sword, shield and spear, when David had nothing more than a sling and 5 stones…… But you know what? David knew that the God whom he served could direct his stone to the perfect spot. He didn’t approach Goliath in fear and trembling, he ran towards him like a man possessed. Guess what, he was a man possessed. The Bible tells us that David was a man filled with the Spirit of God…..he was a man possessed. Don’t we serve the exact same God? So since we do, let’s start serving Him fully and making a difference in our “neighborhoods”.
We have got to get to the point where we stop searching for who to blame when things happen like what took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT and start, as individual believers, taking responsibility to do whatever it takes so that when Jesus looks our direction He can say of us that we have proven to be a neighbor. Who knows what God may do through our willing and available hearts? We could very well be an important tool in the hands of the Master Craftsman that changes a life destined for utter destruction into a life of eternal significance. We may be the one used of God to stop a potential Adam Lanza, not with a gun, or our religion, or our political stance, but with the unconditionally love of Jesus Christ that is flowing through us.
Perhaps you don’t struggle in the areas I addressed below. To be honest, this was written as much to me as it was to anyone else. However, if what I wrote struck a chord with you. Let’s do some brainstorming now. What can we do to do better? What are some steps we can take? I know for me and my family, we need to purpose in our hearts to make a difference in our “Jerusalem”. That place where God has placed us. What about you, I would love to hear your thoughts. Jim
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
We all watched in utter astonishment as that second jetliner crashed into the side of the World Trade Center. Tears rolled down my cheeks, when in horror, I saw the first of the 2 towers collapse into a huge pile of rubble. Never in a million years could you have convinced me that those things would take place in such a short period of time in a country not in the midst of war. But the sad truth is, they did. It wasn't a nightmare you wake up from. It was a reality you live through. It was a reality you weep through. It was a devastating reality such as we have never seen before, and I pray to God, we will never see its kind again. Destruction like this has the ability to bring about a demoralizing devastation that plummets those who experience it into a despair that they are powerless to recover from.
Can I ask you an important question right here? Have you ever experienced tragedy of this magnitude? I now live in Overland Park Kansas. Well over a thousands miles from New York City. While I wept at the sight, its devastation to me was not first hand, though that could be around the corner. But my 41 years has not escaped great tragedy altogether, and chances are, you have also tasted of that bitter fruit. I've wept at the loss of a child. I've watched cancer take the live of a loved one. As an 11 year old, I looked into the face of my 8-year sister and saw the devastation the teeth of a dog can cause.
Given time, you could probably add to my list, because tragedy, simply put, is a part of life. A part that we would all just as soon live with out, but most likely, we will all walk down that dark path. Having traveled that road, can I share with you what I have learned? The truth of the matter is, some of life's greatest lessons are learned through tragedy. The lessons may be very hard, but their value cannot be measured. I want to share with you the most important lesson I have learned in and through tragedy.
God is there! The path may be dark, but it doesn't have to be lonely, and anywhere God dwells, rest assured, incredible victory can be experienced. When you are in the middle of tragedies strong grip, you can't fathom victory. I, myself have uttered the words, "I can't possibly see how God can bring about victory through this tragedy." Then, I have watched as His hand has reached down and woven a beautiful quilt of victory from the threads of defeat. How He accomplished this, I haven't got a clue, but He did it. Not once, not twice, He's batting a thousand, never a miss. Not so much as a strike. He has an unexplainable ability to work about incredible victory when all we can see is despair. I've seen it first hand. I've also seen it in His Word. Almost 2000 years ago, God took, what was the most devastating tragedy anyone has ever faced and turned it into the greatest victory in the history of the universe.
Will He do anything less today? The answer to that is actually quite simple, No. We are already receiving stories of victory. A newly widowed young mother of 2 (soon to be 3) sharing on Larry King Live how her belief in Jesus has sustained her through this tragedy, then being invited back 2 nights later to do the same thing. Republicans and Democrats standing together united in heart and purpose (that's not far behind the miracle of the empty tomb). Prayers filling the halls of public schools, with not so much as a word from the ACLU (at least not yet). More than 19,000 at a fight filled hockey game pausing to listen to the words of a President and being so moved by those words that somehow, the game seemed unimportant. It ended, a third of the game still to play, with handshakes in the middle of the arena. With all my heart, I believe that we have only scratched the surface of the victories still to come. I'm quite certain that God will bring about so much triumph out of this tragedy, that we will loose track of all that He has done.
So don't loose heart my friend, thinking that all is lost, that you are all alone as you witness this tragedy, or as you go through other tragedies in life. Because God travels along side you on that road. We read in Habakkuk 3:17-19 " 17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights."
Something that proved helpful to Pam and me after the loss of our baby some time ago, was memorizing and personalizing this passage. Let me tell me how we would quote it; Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no baby in the crib, 18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. 19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to go on the heights."
Perhaps for you it will be different. For you it may be though there are no sheep in the pen and the innocent die in crumbling towers, or markets crash or no husband in the home, or I've lost my job, or my health is fading, or I've been diagnosed with terminal cancer, or … you fill in the blank. Each of you can personalize this verse in your own way. Am I promising that your problems will go away? Not at all. I am merely pointing you to The Sovereign LORD who will be your strength; who will make your feet like the feet of a deer, who will enable you to go on the heights.
God is at work and He will bring Triumph in Tragedy. We serve an awesome God and when all is said and done, He will reign victorious.
Watch, see, rejoice,
Monday, January 18, 2010
Stay strong all year long.
- The world's first and only mag trainer with progressive resistance.
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- Cam-Lever tighten...
Beats the heck out of riding below 0
Pros: Easy to Use, Durable, Lightweight
Cons: Instructions not good
Describe Yourself: Avid Cyclist
I use this for the winter months when it's just to nasty or cold to ride outside. I have enjoyed it so far. At this point in time my only con is the instructions that came with it were not very helpful at all.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Acts 16:6-1o “6Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
There are times it is quite difficult to understand the plans of God. In fact, from a human standpoint there are times God’s plans don’t make a lick of sense to us. He either allows, or in some instances, causes things to happen that are baffling. While in the middle of these times or seasons we look at what is taking place and think; “What on earth is God thinking? Why would He allow such a thing to take place?” There are other times where we look and see great need spiritually, we make our plans to meet those needs, but it seems at every turn we are prevented from accomplishing our tasks. Surely God wants us to succeed with our plans! After all, the need is great, and we have the ability to meet the need. Yet it still seems as if…..well as if God Himself is preventing us at every turn. I wouldn’t be surprised if that wasn’t exactly what was going through the minds of Paul and Silas in our current passage. There was perhaps nothing Paul wanted to do more than tell everyone he met about Jesus. I believe his plan was to go from town to town, find the spot where the people congregated and proclaim the Good News. God seemed to bless their efforts at nearly every turn. Oh sure, they had some tough times, but as far as Paul was concerned it was a small price to pay. Asia was his next target, but the book of Acts makes it clear that God Himself, through the Holy Spirit, was preventing him from accomplishing his goals. If Paul was anything like me this was very frustrating! But frustrating or not, Paul had no interest at all in doing anything that didn’t have the Hand of God behind it. He had wasted way to much of his life doing what he thought was good, even in the name of God, but without the Hans of God behind him. If God was closing the door, then Paul wasn’t looking for an open window.
Just a brief side note, most of us have heard, or even said; “When God closes a door, He opens a window!” Don’t be too quick to believe that. When God closes a door, that’s it, the door is closed. If you proceed to look for an open window, it could very well be that you are more interested in accomplishing your will than you are God’s will. If He closes a door, wait on Him until He points you in the direction of His open door.
Now back to Paul and his closed door.
Once God closed the door for Paul to preach in Asia, Paul just kept going in the direction he was already heading until he made his way to Troas, a town on the coast of the Mediterranean. That night “had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, 'Come over to Macedonia and help us.'" Did I mention Troas was on the coast? Well caddy corner across the coast was Macedonia. Paul’s obedience to that closed door, put him in perfect position to further obey God’s open door and sail to Macedonia. So what’s the big deal? Ever heard of the city of Philippi? Let me make it a little bit easier for you. Ever heard of the New Testament book of Philippians? The first city Paul came to in Macedonia was the city of Philippi. Paul’s first trip to Philippi was the result of that closed door. Perhaps we would have never had the joy of experiencing Philippians had not God closed the door in Asia, or if Paul had looked around for an open window!
The point is this, when God closes a door, it simply means He, you know--- the All Knowing, All Powerful, Sovereign God--- has a better plan. Please understand, I have searched for and found open windows to crawl through. There is no joy in ignoring God’s closed doors. There is little chances of accomplishing anything of eternal significance even if you are doing a “good thing”. Forget “good things” and pursue “God things”, and may you experience your own Philippians joy! (Want to really catch my drift here, take a quick ½ hour and read through Philippians).
Ignoring open windows and looking for God’s opened doors…..most of the time!
Thursday, September 10, 2009
With the perfect vision that hindsight provides for us, we see the urgency in their actions that day. We have come to understand the motives of the enemy. We know that, to a certain degree, the very lifeblood of our Nation was at stake. Their actions were not only admirable, they were of paramount importance. In a spiritual sense, we as Christians today are staring into the face of our own 911. Our enemy, who is far more powerful than the al Qaida, aims his own weapons of mass destruction at the very spiritual core of all mankind. The only thing standing in his way is a very small number of Spiritual heroes, who daily present their bodies as living sacrifices to the King of all kings. While most Christians believe that what God is looking for is those who are willing to die for Him, the truth is, what He really wants, is those who are willing to live for Him. Those who understand the power of the enemy, realize that the only chance we have of victory, is to humbly yield ourselves daily into God's all-powerful Hands, to allow Him to work in us and through us. Though there are times His purpose makes no sense to us, our allegiance is proven, when our actions take hold of His marching orders, and we look neither to the left or the right and, in faith march forward.
This battle cry goes out to all who call on the name of Jesus today… "Lets Roll!" Death has no grip on our life, and the Spirit of God Almighty has given all of us the power to shake loose the firm grip of the enemy, to put on the full armor of God and march forward claiming great victories in Jesus name. The time has come for believers today to inscribe on the very heart of God a new list of heroes to be added to the spiritual Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11. Will you roll with me today?!
This battle is for weak warriors in the Hands of a Mighty God, who will lift their eyes towards heaven and proclaim; "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Are you weak today? "Lets Roll!"
This battle is for fearful soldiers whose only courage comes from the Spirit of God who indwells them. Are you fearful today? "Lets Roll!"
This battle is for reluctant troops who will not take a step forward until they hear the voice of the commander and chief. Are you reluctant today? Listen, not just to His command, but also His plea, "Lets Roll!"
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the time has come today for all of us, young and old, male and female, weak, fearful, reluctant, every last one of us, to step out of the safety of our foxholes and to storm the gates of the enemy. God's very Word assures us, we will prevail, "Lets Roll!"
Written in August 2002
Monday, August 3, 2009
John 4:35-38 "35I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37Thus the saying 'One sows and another reaps' is true. 38I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Mark 1:1-4 1The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2It is written in Isaiah the prophet: "I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare Your way" 3"a voice of one calling in the desert, `Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.'" 4And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Prophesies fulfilled, we see this continually throughout the life of Christ as it is recorded in the Gospels. In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, written 600 or more years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah writes of one who would “Prepare the way for the Lord”. That is exactly what John the Baptist lived for, he lived his life with one main purpose and goal; “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for Him.”
The Nation of Israel had been experiencing great turmoil now for many years. If memory serves me correctly they were at the end of 400 years of silence. 400 years where they had not heard from God. No Abraham, no Moses, no David, no Solomon, no Isaiah, no one to be a spokesman for God. 400 years of silence! Oh they had their religious leaders who claimed to be spokesmen for God, but those religious leaders’ ears were deaf to the voice of God. Yes religion was alive and well in those days, but God has never been One who was impressed in any way with religion. Religion can easily be done as a ritual. What God is interested in is an individual who serves God, not from a sense of duty, but from a heart of love. That was what John lived and that is what he preached. John the Baptist preached “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” As you watched the life and ministry of John, you find out that John’s calls for repentance were certainly not aimed solely for the sinners in the world’s eyes. He pointed his accusatory fingers at the religious leaders as much, if not more, than the “sinners”. Guess what, those religious leaders didn’t like of appreciate that and as a result they wanted him dead! They had a good thing going and were not at all interested in loosing it. I wonder if they would have wanted me dead? Would they have wanted you dead? God had a plan, a purpose for John, and John was so intent on obeying God, that he would let nothing, including his own death, stop him from accomplishing that purpose. How set are we at being obedient to God and His purpose and plan for our lives? The good news for the vast majority of us is, we really don’t have to worry about loosing our life. That being said, in some ways the plan God had for John and has for us are quite similar. The rest is up to us. John was opposed to established ritualistic religion that “does, does, does” for the sake of man’s approval. Approval from men is a momentary pat on the back. It’s here today and gone…..well it’s gone today. Simply put, it doesn’t last. A heart that serves God because of love for Him receives a pat on the back from God. Those are the pats, the rewards, the blessings that never end. Which am I working for?
Thursday, July 23, 2009
“Cause all too soon the clock will strike mid-night, and she’ll be gone”.
As a dad, my heart has been touched too many times to count when listening to the song “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman. I have a daughter, and I have frequently rushed through the bedtime routine so I can get back to whatever it was I was doing before. Rarely is that task ever really of great importance, yet I rush her non-the-less. I have also had the privilege of dancing with my daughter, singing to her as the song played. It was a very memorable event that I have permanently locked away in the memory banks.
Chances are anyone reading this knows that the song “Cinderella”, though not intentional at the time, became quite prophetic in at least 2 ways, one beautiful, the other tragic. The beautiful fulfillment came in the engagement of Steven Curtis Chapman’s oldest daughter Emily. Chances are the future holds a beautiful and tearful daddy/daughter dance at Emily’s wedding reception. The tragic fulfillment came when 5 year old Maria Sue was killed in the family’s driveway when she ran into the path of their SUV as her older brother Will Franklin was returning home. Midnight had come and gone, and the clock struck midnight before all but One expected it to. The One is, of course, our heavenly Father. The One who holds the future in His hands, Who knows the beginning from the end, Who has written all the days of our life before we breath a single breath. He knew when midnight would come for Maria Sue Chapman. He picked out the exact moment; choose it out of the million available moments. As hard as it may be to fathom, His choice of midnight was not a random choice. He didn’t just throw a dart at the dart board of her life and where it hit midnight would strike. I don’t believe there is anything random with God. There is purpose in everything He does, a plan, and we know from His Word that His plan for use is good. In Jeremiah 29:11 we read “For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the LORD’, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I would have pictured those words written by a man who knew quite well, what prosperity was all about. But it is interesting to note, that the man who penned those words, had an intimate relationship with tragedy. One of his closest friends, King Josiah, died a painful death at the hands of Pharaoh Neco II. On top of that, he was chosen of God to deliver the message of God’s impending destruction to the Nation of Judah, his Nation, a Nation he loved. Then he painfully watched as his prophecies were fulfilled. Yet still he wrote “For I know the plans I have for you, ‘declares the LORD’, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”. Amazing words from a man known as “The Weeping Prophet”.
So what does this mean to the Chapman family? Well to a very large degree that story is still being written. Part of that story is playing before our very eyes. Just this morning the Chapman family appeared on Good Morning America. In an interview conducted by Robin Roberts, who herself appears to have been snatched from the clutches of death in her battle over breast cancer, the family shares of the hope they have. One of her early statements was particularly telling. She says that after spending time with the Chapman’s: “I saw a family closer than ever before, there for one another, and a family facing the future, with great hope.” Hope lived out in the day to day life of a family living in the throes of tragedy. Hope spoken from the mouth of a father to a son, dieing daughter in an ambulance heading for Vanderbilt hospital, possibly already haven taken her last breath, as he rolled down his window and shouted; “Will Franklin, your father loves you!” A father who sensed the strong possibility of losing one child and wanted to make sure he didn’t loose a second. Hope lived out in a mother for her remaining children, who at times has to, in her own words “shift her grief” because; “I have Emily who's getting married and her fiancé, Tanner, and Caleb and his girlfriend, Julia, and Will Franklin. You know, he's my baby boy. And then Shaoey and Stevey, and my grief gets shifted to making sure they’re as whole and as healthy as they can be.” Hope lived out in the lives of a bother and sister who have, in the midst of their own journey through “the valley of death’s shadow” sought to minister to their younger brother. Caleb said it so well when he said; “When you see someone hurting, and you see someone burdened. You…you want to take that burden from them.”
I couldn’t agree with Caleb more, but I have learned through life that you can rarely “take that burden from them”. However, you can walk with them through those dark valleys. In fact, that is what we are called to do. As believers we are called to come alongside one another, even if it means a trip through the “valley of death’s shadow”. This is not an easy task, but there are few tasks whose rewards are more telling, more evident, more fulfilling, more eternal. It is those stories you and I are writing today. That we will continue to write tomorrow, that we have the opportunity to live out each day God gives us breath. It has been said that “Hope springs eternal!” But I am here to tell you that there are times that hope is a distant memory so far removed that you struggle remembering what it is like. Times where it is so dark, so painful, so heart wrenching that you literally feel like you have to fight for every breath. I am also here to tell you that there is light at the end of that tunnel. Light so brilliant that it is beyond your imagination. However, when you are deep inside that dark tunnel, it seems like the only thing you have to hold on to is the assurance from God that “I will never leave you or forsake you”. One of our terrific responsibilities is to be used of God to show others the truth of that statement “I will never leave you or forsake you”. The question is what will you do? Let’s follow the lead of this amazing family and come alongside one another to speak, to minister, to live out hope. Then let’s watch as God takes the dark colors from our “valley of death’s shadow” and paints them into a beautiful masterpiece of His graciousness.
A Masterpiece in progress,
It is not often that I add to what I have already posted. In fact, outside of the comment section or minor edits, I have never done this. However, today is a different day. Last night the Chapman family, with the exception of the 2 youngest, appeared together on Larry King Live. It was a touching hour of remembering what took place. Of reflecting on how they as a family have come together while on deaths dark and winding road, and how they have all seen the Hand of God even in the midst of tragedy.
You know one of the things I love about live TV is that, to a very large degree, the hands of the editors are tied. Outside of the traditional 5-10 second delay, the editors don’t have much power. As I watched the show live last night, I rejoiced at the way the Chapman family sought to bring honor and praise to the Lord. I don’t know this for a fact, but I am guessing that there were key points in the interview conducted by Robin Roberts of Good Morning America, that never got past editing room floor. But things are different on live TV.
I wrote earlier about “Hope lived out in the day to day life of a family living in the throes of tragedy.” Last nights interview brought more of that hope to the forefront. Interestingly, I just watched Larry King do a recap of the show in his regular review titled About Last Night. His words are amazing. He said the subject of the hour last night was “Faith, and faith renewed, and faith restored.” His next statement is very telling. He stated; “I am always amazed at that. I’ve never been able to make that leap into blind faith which they have… and trust. They believe that their daughter is in heaven, watching down. I wish I had that…belief. But it was incredible to spend time with all of them, and the strength of all of them. And even though that strength may be looked at… some, looked by some as leaning…on a fence, a fence that is God or religion. I looked at it as stronger than that. They were an incredible group, I’ll never forget it!”
I have been listening to or watching Larry King since, if my memory serves me correctly, the late 70’s or early 80’s. Back in those days he was not on TV. He was a syndicated radio talk show host with a pension for attacking Christians. He has softened considerably in the years since. I am not completely certain what it is that has changed him. Perhaps he has been impacted as he has, through the interview process, walked with believers as they traveled through tragic times. Who could forget his interview with Todd Beamers wife days after she lost her husband on Sept, 11, 2001 (for more on that see my blogs titled “Triumph In Tragedy” and “Lets Roll”). In that interview she talked about how Jesus had sustained her through the tragedy. Or perhaps it was his own journey to the threshold of deaths door. I am not sure, but I pray that the day will come when he makes that “leap into blind faith”. If, or perhaps I can be bold enough to say, when he makes that leap. He will realize what I have come to realize. I do not lean on a fence that is God or religion! My feet are firmly planted on a foundation so strong and so powerful, that the gates of hell cannot prevail. Every step I take, He takes with me. When I face tragedy, it is as if His hands are resting on my shoulders, reassuring me that I am not alone. I feel his breath on the top of my head and I know that One more powerful than me, is there. My tears are seemingly met by His nail scarred hands and I know that I have a God Who understands my pain. My hope rests in a God Who has no limits, Who is surprised by nothing. Who holds the future, and even the past, in the palm of His Hand. Who gave Gideon his battle cry and guided the stone of David. Who toppled the walls of Jericho as His people watched. Who guided, fed, gave water to and preserved the clothing of more than 2,000,000 people wandering in a desert for 40 years. Who spoke “Peace! Be still” and calmed the storm.
Are you wandering in a desert today? He stands there with you! Looking into the eyes of a giant? Have faith in the God who guides small stones and topples insurmountable odds. Facing a battle you can’t possibly win? Hold high His lamp, break the jar of dependence on yourself and press your lips to the horn of His faithfulness and watch as He wins the battle for you. Look as He breaths on the mighty walls of the enemy and they fall. And listen to His voice as he speaks to the storm, in His perfect timing (His, not ours!)and then rest in His peace. My point is this. I have learned through the pages of His Word and through my own life and its many tragedies, that God is real, and He is there. If I remain in Him, rest in Him, and rely on Him. If I seek Him, follow Him, and hold fast to Him. If I grow in Him, pray to Him, and trust in Him. If I look to Him and hope in Him. My eternity is secure. He doesn’t promise me a life without problems. In fact the opposite is true. I will face sickness. I will see the ugly face of death. I may experience poverty, hunger, pain, loss, unspeakable sorrow. But I am not alone, and the Word of God is clear that:
Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
I am not alone! You are not alone! We are not alone. He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death. That is God’s assurance that we don’t face that dark valley alone.
That is the great hope that the Robin Roberts spoke of that she saw in the Chapman family. That is that faith renewed, and faith restored that Larry King will never forget. May others see that great hope in us as we walk through the tragedies of life. May our faith renewed, and faith restored have an eternal impact on the yet to believe world that watches us.
To God be the glory….even in tragedy,
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
In many ways we felt kind of sorry for this old couple. They lived in a run down old house. The paint had long since disappeared. All you could see was the drab old grey exterior that tends to happen when a house isn't cared for. While everyone else in the huge metropolis of Pierceville, Kansas had nice green lawns, at this house there was dirt, nothing more, just dirt. Rarely could you ever walk by the house without hearing yelling and screaming going on. And forget about trying to sneak around their house. The very second you set foot on their street the barks and growls began. It was a pack of man-eating wolves that surrounded their property. Many sales careers ended on their front porch. Ok, perhaps I may be exaggerating slightly but those things sure seemed true to me at 7 years old. Every time I ever saw the man, he was wearing the same thing: grey hat, grey shirt, grey pants, wouldn't surprise me if his underwear was grey as well. Chances are that none of those things started out grey, but that's what they were now. Actually, he matched his house perfectly. Did you ever see the children's movie "Snow Day"? Well this man could have been the snow plow driver, including the teeth. Surely this was the poorest family in all of Pierceville, Kansas. Then one day, tragedy struck. There was a fire in the house. Literally adding fuel to the fire was stacks of newspapers, as high as 5 feet. By the time the men arrived to help put out the fire, the house was already engulfed in flames. When they tried to pull his mother to safety, she fought like cats and dogs, kept screaming something about her bed. Sometime later they discovered what she was screaming about. Underneath the mattress on her bed was money. Cold hard CASH. Not just a little, there was an incredible amount of money stashed there. It turns out that what appeared to be the poorest family in town, was actually one of the wealthiest! The problem was, they never took advantage of the wealth they possessed.
In today's passage, we see the disciples listening to Jesus as He spoke some of His last words before the ascension. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you." With Jesus leaving, the remaining disciples needed some reassurance. They needed something of a confidence builder. Something they could sense, that they could feel. My wife and I have been drinking a vitamin supplement drink for a few years now. It is a powder we mix with orange juice. On the can it says it tastes good. I'll bet the guy that wrote that likes peas too! Something happens to Pam about five minutes after she drinks it, she literally feels it kick in. It's as if something surges through her veins. All of the sudden she feels energized. In a spiritual sense, the disciples needed something just like this, they needed to be spiritually energized. There were times when they were with Jesus that they felt like they could do anything, but in just a few moments, He would be gone. What would they do then? "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you." Now, at this point in time, I'm going to go against what many believe to be true. There are many who believe that before the Holy Spirit came, the disciples had no power, that in a spiritual sense they were powerless. My personal opinion is that this was not the case. Let me ask you a question here. Was there ever a moment that the omnipresent God wasn't with these men? You're right, they were never alone, never without the presence of God. Let me ask you a series of questions now. Did Moses turn his staff into a snake? Did he part the Red Sea? Did he bring water from the Rock? Did Joshua make the walls of Jericho crumble? When Gideon and his army of 300 faced over 127,000 Midianites, was it their skills in hand to hand combat that gave them victory that day? The answers to every one of these questions are the same, it was NOT the men of God that did the work, it was the HAND of God that did the work. Since I am in the question mode, let me continue. Since the Old Testament days, in what ways had the power of God diminished? Are you catching my drift here? The fact of the matter is, nothing within the nature of God had changed. However, something within the lives of these 11 men had changed, and was about to change even more. While these men had grown spiritually in a huge way, (by the way, isn't that what happens when you go through great trials? They either make you or break you.) there was still room for more growth. But Christ-likeness is a final destination that we will never arrive at here on earth. At the same time, it is the one destination we should pursue, with all our hearts, until God calls us home. While the disciples knew full well that Jesus is the Son of God, they didn't realize yet, that He would still be with them, even when he wasn't….well… with them. "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you."
Personally I believe, that the power that these men needed to a certain degree, was a power they already had. It was as if it was hidden under a mattress so to speak. And what the Holy Spirit was going to accomplish, was to light a fire that would move these men to rip the sheets off their beds, toss their mattresses aside and unleash the incredible spiritual wealth they already had. That brings us to the here and now. If you have put your faith and trust in Christ, you have at your disposal unimagined power to accomplish the will of God. Unfortunately for many, in fact, not many but MOST, that power is buried, hidden beneath the mattress of mediocrity, or the mattress of selfishness, or the mattress of un-forgiveness, or the mattress of hate…… the list of mattresses is unending. Folks, if you don't see the Hand of God working in and through your life, it is not the Hand of God that is to blame. It is you who is to blame. Somehow, at sometime you have taken God's power and buried it under a mattress. May today be the day you toss that mattress aside and unleash the power of God in your life.
Tearing the sheets and tossing the mattress aside,
Thursday, February 8, 2007
"Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom of Israel?" These were times of great confusion for the apostles. While it is true that they had just tasted the sweet fruit of victory, had witnessed the resurrected Lord, this also came on the heels of the most bitter defeat they had ever experienced. My guess is that the more time they spent with Jesus before the crucifixion, the more they became convinced in their own minds that they were going to be a part of the re-establishment of the nation of Israel. That they would soon battle along side Jesus, or more importantly in their eyes, that they would lead the nation of Israel. Serve as Generals, so to speak, commanding over an army of Israelites leading them in victory against the mighty Roman Empire. As they followed Jesus in His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, as they laid their cloaks and palm branches before Him, as the people shouted "Hosanna to the Son of David", the inner confidence of the disciples grew. I believe there was no doubt in their minds that Jesus was here to re-establish the nation of Israel, to finally free them from the grip of the Roman Empire. Then in one week's time, those hopes were dashed. Not just dashed they were crushed. Jesus, their once loved leader, tasted the ultimate in hatred and rejection as the shouts from the crowd came "Crucify Him! Give us Barabas, and Crucify Him!" No matter how hard they tried, those shouts still echoed in their minds.
But it wasn't just hateful words that they couldn't get out of their minds. Far worse than the shouts of a crowd were the actions of friends, greater still their own actions. For three years they had followed Him. When He spoke they moved to the edge of their seats, hung on every word. For three years they watched Him love the unlovely, reach the unreachable, touch the untouchable. They saw one woman healed simply by touching the hem of His garment. Who could forget seeing lepers cleansed by the touch of His hand, or see Lazarus come forth from the mouth of the tomb. Or how about the time He simply spoke and the winds and waves instantly obeyed. All these things they had seen with their own eyes, not because they chose to follow Him, but because He chose them. Out of all the great people in the nation of Israel, Jesus hand-picked each of them. They witnessed perfection personified, yet when the person of perfection needed them most, they turned tail and ran. These were the thoughts and pictures that consumed their minds. So when Jesus spoke of the days to come, their minds were mired in the days gone by. When Jesus spoke of the promised gift, they could only see themselves as unworthy recipients. It wasn't that they didn't want this great gift but they had this great fear that once again they would let Him down. In their minds eyes they felt that the more time that passed, the greater the chance that they would fail. "Lord, are you at this time going to restore Israel?" It was a confused pleading sort of question. Almost as if there were saying "Oh please, Jesus, please do it now, before we fail you again, please establish your kingdom!"
But something had happened to these men. While traveling through the torrid waters of defeat, these once proud men had been broken. There had been a day when these men saw themselves as worthy. Now they saw themselves in the reality of who they truly were, unworthy. All their pride had been stripped away, now the Hand of God was ready to work, ready to accomplish the unexplainable through a pack of unworthy humble servants. His greatest works are accomplished through blemished, tarnished simple tools touched by the Master's Hands, may we joyously watch as He works His masterpiece in and through us!
From one tarnished tool to another,
Friday, February 2, 2007
Written fall of 2000
Mark 16:9-13 "9When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. 10 She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. 11 when they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it. 12 Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. 13 These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either." (NIV)
You know there are times doubt just seems to overtake you. It creeps in like a thief in the night and before you know it you can't seem to believe anything, no matter what others may say. They can tell you the truth, even give evidence to back up what they say, but you just can't seem to believe until you see it with your own eyes. That is what is happening with the disciples in Mark 16:9-13. Jesus Himself had predicted both His death and resurrection; they had heard the report from the ladies of what the angel had told them. Mary told them of her face to face encounter with Jesus, as did the two men who met Him on the road to Emmaus, but none of that mattered right now. He was dead! That's that. Their hearts were broken and their minds were made up and no wishful thinking people were going to convince them otherwise. Now, before you jump on the "blast the disciples" bandwagon. Let's quickly recap the events of the past week. This will help us gain a little perspective into what was going on in the minds of these men.
It all started with the Triumphal Entry. What an incredible event that was. Palm branches and cloaks carpeting the road before Him. Shouts of "Hosanna to the Son of David" surrounding Him. Try as they may, His enemies could do nothing to stop the shouts from the crowd. He had the city of Jerusalem in the palm of His hand. By Thursday night the tide had drastically changed and I do mean changed. That night, as they were eating, Jesus talked about dying. He announced that one of them would betray Him, one other would deny even knowing Him and the rest would flee for their lives rather than go with Him. His words proved prophetic. Judas betrayed Him. Peter denied that he even knew Jesus not one but three times, and all of the rest ran for their lives. One of His young followers even ran away naked rather than get caught with Jesus. Since that night, they couldn't go anywhere without hearing the people talk about what had transpired. They heard the shouts of "Crucify Him!" Then, the ultimate of all evil took place. He was hung on a cross between to criminals, having already been beaten so badly He barely looked human. Darkness covered the land for three hours right in the middle of the day, He died, and there was a great earthquake. Guilt and depression consumed them and just when they thought it couldn't get any worse, they heard the news; Judas had taken his own life. Chances are many of them considered doing the same. Better to die a quick death at your own hands, than a slow painful death at the hands of those who had taken the life of Jesus.
On the tail of all this, from the others of Jesus, so called, raising from the dead. Maybe they had delusions, or perhaps they were just trying to prevent more suicides. Could be they were just trying to lift the spirits of the disciples. This past week had been an emotional whirlwind. Even if they wanted to, they couldn't believe He had risen from the dead. When you look at the events of the last week it is a little easier to understand their reluctance to believe. When they were in the depths of despair, doubt had crept in and consumed them, so much so, that they couldn't even believe the words of their own friends. Doubt is one of Satan's most powerful weapons, chances are you yourself have felt the iron grip of this weapon. For you it could be that doubt crept in through the door with the words of a physician announcing you have cancer. You have seen the devastation of cancer before and there is nothing pretty about it. It touches 3 out of every 4 families. My family has witnessed its power on more than one occasion. There was a day when my father-in-law Doug was a big strong man. Farmed and did heavy work all his life. It seemed there was very little he couldn't accomplish. Then, one day, his wife noticed he was struggling. He became seemingly unwilling to do anything, confused rather easily, had headaches all the time. After visiting the doctor, came the bad news. He had a brain tumor that proved to be malignant. Within a few short months cancer had transformed this, once powerful man, to a man who could do virtually nothing for himself. Then came his death. I don't pretend to know why God allowed him to die. He was a very godly man. He led more people to Christ every year than most churches. We all prayed regularly for his healing and I believe we had the faith God could heal him. Yet still he died. So what do you do to keep doubt from creeping in at times like this? What do you do? You trust. I'm not saying it's always easy, but you still trust. And what do you trust in? Well, to begin with you trust in His word. Let's go back to the passage we are currently looking at for an example. The disciples had gone from the ultimate in excitement to the ultimate in disappointment in one short week. Nothing made sense to them any more. They fully expected Jesus to come forward that week and take over the throne of David as ruler of Israel. They were ready to do battle against Rome alongside this powerful leader, who had the power to raise the dead, heal the sick, make blind eyes see and calm storms. All with nothing more than the sound of His voice. Instead, Jerusalem had turned against Him and He was dead. They expected one thing, God allowed the opposite. Ah, but you and I know the rest of the story. We know that Jesus had to die to pay the price for our sins. We know that His mind wasn't just on an earthly kingdom but also a spiritual one. Eventually He would rule over both but in order to do so, He had to die. Because of that we know we can trust Him even when it looks like what he is allowing doesn't make any sense. He has proven Himself in the pages of His word.
God's word isn't the only thing we can trust in where God has clearly proven Himself. There are also the true stories of what God has done in the lives of others. Take, for instance, the life of Joni Erickson Tada. One moment she is an active teenager swimming with her friends, the next she was paralyzed for life from the neck down. From first impressions you would assume that God blew it this time. Surely the rest of her life would be filled with great disappointment, despair and depression. If you are familiar with Joni, you know this couldn't be farther than the truth. While Joni could have allowed those these things to happen in her life, she chose not to, and because of her choice millions and millions have been blessed by her ministry.
For most, if not all of us, God has always proven Himself in our own lives. Think through your own life for a moment. Chances are, if you have been a Christian for very long, you can think of times in your life where it seemed God blew it. Nothing good could come out of the situation you found yourself in. Now, however, you know the rest of the story. You watched as God took a great time of turmoil, moved in with His own special touch, took the threads of despair and wove them together into a blanket with incredible beauty. Beauty that could only come from the hand of God.
The stories I could tell you from my own life. Let me share one with you this morning. Daniel was born January 21, 1993 in Valdivia, Chile. His birth mom was Rosa a young Chilean servant girl to a native Pastor and his family. She felt that it was in the best interest of this newborn that she placed him up for adoption. The Pastors wife had a sister who met and married an American while she was in the states for college. Over the years she had helped 10 different American couples adopt babies from Chile. She and her family were members of the church where I was serving as a youth pastor. Pam and I had always loved and wanted children but were unable to have our own by birth, as a result we were pursuing adoption. She along with our senior Pastor met with us and asked us to pray about adopting this soon to be newborn in Chile. In July of 1992 we began the process of international adoption. It was a long process but God seemed to be at work in every part of the process. International adoption can be very difficult but with God's hand at work every door seemed to open and every hurdle seemed like nothing more than a small fence you might have around a tomato plant in your garden. International adoption can also be very expensive but in God's graciousness He took care of all our financial needs to the tune of $15,000 +. So on January 28th Pam and I along with our Chilean friend and her son boarded a plane for Chile. The next morning we held little Daniel in our arms for the first time. We were certain that it wouldn't be long until Daniel would be home with us in America Sleeping in his own crib in a room we had joyously decorated for him. There were still a few loose ends to tie up so one week later I headed back to the states leaving Pam behind to care for Daniel. One thing led to another and as quickly as the doors had opened before, they were now closing and the hurdles were turning into insurmountable walls. Confidently we moved on, if the walls of Jericho were no problem for God then why should these be any different? For the next four months Pam lived in a foreign country with very little ability to communicate, pouring everything she had into Daniel. With no other family within 10,000 miles of her, Daniel became everything to her. Each day she took long walks carrying Daniel in a pouch across her chest, each night he slept in a basket within her reach. The bond was very strong. That mattered little, as the door was quickly closing. Finally, at the end of April, I boarded a plane headed for Chile, still hoping to bring Pam and Daniel home with me. As our final attempt, we flew to Santiago, the capital of Chile and met with a wealthy lawyer. As if it were yesterday, I remember setting across from the lawyer in his high backed leather chair. He reclined slightly in his chair, folded his hands across his chest and told me that for another $10,000 American dollars we could take Daniel home with us. As I listened I knew, his intention were not legal. I can honestly say that money had nothing to do with our decision. Had it been legal, God would have provided. We knew God would not bless our family if we chose to do what we knew to be wrong. With heavy hearts, I turned to walk out of the door. That night, we placed Daniel back into the arms of his birth mom, Rosa, went back to our room and wept as we held each other. Soon we were back in the States facing an empty crib. The pain was incredible. At times like this it is hard to see the hand of God. All you can do is trust that God knows what He is doing. While this may be reassuring intellectually, it does virtually nothing to remove the tears. Over the next 2-3 years our tears flowed frequently.
You have heard the phrase "hind sight is 20/20". Well now, 6 ½ years later, our vision is clear. God did several great things through that tragic time in our life. Our next door neighbor watched us closely as we traveled those troubled waters. She had two children from two different men and many a night different cars would be parked in front of her house all night. Several months later there was a knock at our door. When we opened the door we stood face to face with our neighbor. Her eyes were wet with tears. That morning one of the owners of those "different cars" had taken his own life. She had broken off the relationship and it was more than he could handle. She watched how we had handled the loss of Daniel and wanted to know what enabled us to survive. Within a week she bowed before the throne of the One who laid His own life down for her. Our loss opened the door for her gain.
Many things have happened in the years since we went home empty handed. Yesterday as I was recording my thoughts in the very journal you are reading from, my two year old daughter sat on my lap helping me write, and what a big help she is! As a direct result of our adventure in Chile, God opened up the door for us to adopt, not one but 2 children. Brittany came from a family whose grandmother had prayed for us as we traveled those rough waters. Later, one of her granddaughters, age 19, became pregnant, out of wedlock. She had been raised in a fatherless home and wanted a different life for the child she was carrying. Brittany was that child. Because of her grandmother praying for us she wanted us to adopt her baby. Our 9 year old, Steven, is also a direct result of what took place in Chile. God was at work opening doors only He knew existed. That is the way He works.
Are you traveling through some rough waters today? Have you reached a point where you feel as though God has blown it, lost control, let you down in a major way? Wait patiently, my friend. Chances are He is opening a door for you that you do not even know is there. For if His eye is on the sparrow, you can know He watches you!
Thursday, February 1, 2007
At any point in time He could have ended the torment. He had done nothing worthy of the mockery He was receiving from these soldiers, nothing! Of course, when you think about it, much of the time mockery isn't earned. It is just something that is dished out by people with brutal, hateful hearts. If it is earned, it is earned by being a little different than what is considered "normal". By being a little too short, or too tall of too heavy. It could be that there is a physical deformity or a problem mentally. Maybe there is an ugly birthmark or that a person, by human standards, is not physically attractive.
My younger sister, Joy, was mocked because her face was covered with scars, the result of an attack of a dog. One cheek gone, nose and chin hanging by a piece of skin, teeth marks everywhere. This was in 1971. The doctors did everything they could to repair the damage, but still the face was covered with scars. "Scar face" and "Dog face" were names Joy heard all too frequently. I, too, have been on the receiving end of mockery on many occasions. Much as I hate to admit it, I have delivered mockery as well. Chances are, you can relate to either or both ends of the mockery spectrum.
The point is, you have a God who can relate to you. He doesn't just sit, high up in heaven, on His golden throne, uncaringly ruling with an iron scepter. He understands, not just because He is all knowing. Have you been abused? To you Jesus says; "I've been there too!" Have people torn you apart by words that cut like a knife? Jesus words to you; "I understand your pain!" Been picked on? His word to you; "May I show you My scars?" Isn't it amazing that God can relate to us?! His understanding comes from a "Been there, felt you pain" point of view.
There is, however, one glaring difference. At any point in time, He could have ended the pain with nothing more than a thought. Take today's passage for instance. With a mere thought from His mind Jesus, could have called legions of angels to vanquish those delivering the verbal and physical blows. It would have only taken one angel to send His tormentors scurrying for a rock to hide under. What would you have done with that kind of power at your disposal? I know what I would have done; I would have called for the angel! "Mock me will you, I'll show you what pain is all about!" My guess is, you would have done the same. Not Jesus! He silently took the blows. He knew the names of those who beat Him and He lifted those names to His Father's throne. Every piece of flesh ripped from His broken body by that "cat of nine tails" loudly proclaimed "I love you!" He hung from that cross, blood pouring from the nails in His hands and feet and the crown of thorns upon His head, face beaten so badly that He barely looked like a man, and said; "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." At any point in time He could have ended this barrage of pain and insults, but He chose not to.
In fact, let me carry this thought even a step farther, it wasn't just that He chose not to end it. No, He chose to let it begin. He came to earth knowing, in advance, everything that would happen to Him. He wasn't surprised by the hateful words. Not a single blow caught Him off guard. He knew, long before it ever happened, about the crown of thorns and nails in His hands and feet. With full knowledge of what was to come, Jesus chose to lay aside His royal robes and heavenly throne and descended from heaven to experience our pain. What's more, the Bible tells us He did it "For the joy set before Him". Perhaps right now you are wondering "Why, Why would anyone choose to experience that kind of pain?" The answer is a simple one; because He loves you! He went through it all because He loves you. Wait, there's more. If you put your faith and trust in Him, the day will come when He Himself will wipe away every tear on your face. He will do so with a grossly disfigured hand from a nail thrust through it. His scars will remain as an eternal testimony of His great love for you. Won't you reach out today and receive the life changing touch of the Masters hand.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Pam and I have always enjoyed watching mysteries, whether it is movies or television shows. Last night we watched Diagnosis Murder. During the show a young medical student killed a nurse who he had been dating. He found out she was pregnant. The problem, besides the obvious, was he was in the third year of medical school and didn't want to drop out to care for a family. Did I mention he was also engaged to another gal? Oh the tangled webs we weave! He took a whole bottle of gel caps she had a prescription for and dumped the contents into some soup he had purchased at a local Chinese restaurant. He then left for a short time and returned later to clean up the mess. There she lay, dead on the floor. He grabbed her underneath her arms and drug her over to the couch. He then pressed her fingers on the empty pill bottle so there would be fingerprints, giving the perception of suicide. While he was out he also purchased more soup. He then dumped the contents of the drugged soup down the drain as well as some of the new soup so it would look like some of it had been eaten. It was a carefully thought out plan, he thought of everything, well, almost everything. Did you know you can see things more clearly in the day than you can at night? What he didn't realize was that during the daylight hours there were visible tracks on the carpet where he drug the nurse after she died. He couldn't see them at night, but with the sunlight streaming through the windows they were clearly visible. That made Dr. Mark Sloan a little suspicious. And soon they had their murderer. If only they had done their investigation in the evening.
In today's passage we see something similar. John 3:20 says, "Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed." The truth is, just about everyone has secrets. Either things in their past, or even things in the present, that they would just as soon remain a secret. Thing we aren't proud of, worse yet, things we want to hold on to. In some cases, we rationalize that since we do these things in the private, there is no reason that they can't remain private. In other cases, we may rationalize, that we really aren't hurting anyone. Maybe the secret is just within the realms of our thought life. A grudge, a refusal to forgive, animosity towards another… the list of secret sins is virtually endless. I guess the real question is, are there really any secrets? Sure, we may be the only person who knows about it or them, but what about God. Can we keep secrets from Him? I think we all know the answer to that question, but lets look at the Word of God just in case. In Psalms 139:7-12, the Psalmist writes:
7Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
12even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
The reality is, there are no secrets from God. I must admit, that doesn't necessarily make me feel very good. Be honest with me for a minute, aren't there certain things you would just as soon God not know about? That is not the case, there are no secrets, the Word of God is very clear, there is nothing hidden from the eyes of God.
Perhaps you may be thinking, "Yea but my stuff really isn't that big a deal. In fact, much of the world wouldn't even have a problem with my "secrets". I'll bet you that there was a time Isaiah the prophet thought the same things. By the worlds standards he was a righteous man. Practically everyone, if not everyone who knew him would have described him as blameless. Then one day, he stood in the presence of the glory of God. Let’s take a minute and look at what this "blameless man" said at that moment. It is recorded in Isaiah 6:1-5;
1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
4At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5"Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
"Woe to me." Isn't it amazing that this righteous man would feel so guilty in the presence of God's glory. I remember one time when Pam and I were looking for a house or apartment to call home. We looked at one place in the late evening. The place looked good enough that we decided that we ought to take another look. Sometime later, over the next few days, we went back to see the place during the daylight hours. Boy were we in for a surprise. The walls were filthy, there were dead bugs everywhere. We couldn't see any of those things at night, but the light of day opened our eyes to things we couldn't see before. I believe that is exactly what Isaiah was stuck with. Compared to other people, Isaiah really was righteous, but in the presence of God's glory, his eyes were opened to things he couldn't see before, and what he saw was anything but righteous.
One of the things I really love about the Word of God is that the passage doesn't end there. It goes on to say;
6Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
"your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for." What an awesome statement! What did Isaiah do to receive atonement? Basically, he agreed with God. He saw himself for what he truly was, a sinner in need of God's grace. Are we not the same? We are certainly far from righteous. In fact, I'll bet, that most of us don't even approach Isaiah's righteousness, let alone God's righteousness. However, it is no harder for us to receive atonement, that it was for Isaiah. The truth is, it's easier, we don't have to experience a hot coal. Actually, the coal is basically a picture of cleansing. God frequently used fire to cleanse sin. That is what we see hear. The coal wasn't used to hurt Isaiah. It was used to cleanse him. Our cleansing comes from something else. Something just as strange from a human standpoint. It comes from blood, not our own, but the blood of Jesus. Like Isaiah, we can have our guilt taken away and our sin atoned. Like Isaiah, we must see our sin for what it is, agree with God and confess it to him. Only then can we say to God, "Here am I. Send me!" So lets remember that we are never hidden from the light of God's glory, continually confess our sins to God, turn form them and go where He sends us.
In His service,
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Acts 2:42-47 "42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
We have now come to the 4th and last of the basic areas that were keys to unlocking the success of the early church. That key is prayer. Prayer is perhaps the most intimate of the four keys. First, it is intimate because it is that time where we have the opportunity to be one on One with the Creator of the universe. Did you pick that up? It is that time where we have the opportunity to be one on One with the Creator of the universe. How incredible is that! I can't even get an audience one on one with the President of the United States, yet any time I want to, I can step into the Holy of Holies and have a conversation with the Almighty. As amazing as that sounds, allow me to let you in on something even more amazing, God wants me to come to Him. He actually desires my presence. This is a truth I will never understand. Want to know something even more incredible? Most people, who call themselves Christians, go through entire days without ever going one on One with God. Perhaps they give up a quick prayer at meal time, could be they shoot another one God's way as they kneel by the bedside of their child each night, but far too much of the time, that is the extent of their intimacy with the Almighty. Folks, there is a word for that, the word, "STUPID." It is absolutely stupid. I'm sorry, perhaps you are offended by my choice of words, but to be honest, so am I. In my home we aren't even allowed to use that word, but I can't think of a better word. What would you call me if the President's limo pulled into my driveway, he walked up to my front door, rang the doorbell and requested a moment of my time, only to have me turn him away because I was in the middle of a good TV program? I'll bet you'd call me a stupid idiot. Check it out – you added a bad word to my bad word. Guess what? I think I would agree with you. Even if the President was someone I didn't vote for, if he rang my doorbell and requested a bit of my time, I'd turn off the TV and sit down and chat with him. (Of course, if it was a Bronco game, I might put a video tape in and record it.)
The point is this, far too much of the time we don't even think of the incredible opportunity we have. I wish I could tell you why, but I can't. It just happens. I think that part of it is we have the wrong perception of what prayer is. When someone mentions prayer, we think of long boring prayer meetings at church or of an old saint on his knees in front of his chair or other picture like those. But is that really an accurate picture of what prayer is? I really don't think it is.
Prayer is basically a conversation. Sure it's between you and God, but it is still a conversation and it can take place at any moment in any location. On many days my conversation with God starts while I am in the shower. By that time I have had my morning power drink. The coffee is brewing, I have shaved and my mind is just beginning to function properly. Other times I pray when I am driving. The point is this, there is virtually no place or time I can't pray. The sooner we realize and take advantage of this, the sooner our relationship with God grows more special and more intimate. I can't think of any reason why we wouldn't want to have a more intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe.
There is yet another reason why prayer is one of the most intimate of the four keys to success. This reason is actually a little harder to understand. It's harder to understand because we really don't understand how it works, but it works none-the-less. That reason? Somehow prayer moves the hand of God. I really can't tell you how or why it moves the hand of God, but it does. I am convinced that certain things happen or don't happen as a direct result of prayer. Look at Scripture, James 5:16, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Another passage simply states, "You have not, because you ask not." Perhaps it is because God desires that intimate relationship with us that our prayers move His hand. Sort of like He is blessing our desire to get to know Him better. While I don't know how prayer works, that's not about to stop me from praying. I hope that is true of you as well. You see, I want my intimacy with the Almighty to grow more each day, and I want to be part of the hand of God moving. May my prayer life grow stronger and stronger in the days, months, and years ahead.
We have now taken a closer look at the 4 basic areas that the early church had a unique commitment to. These things were huge in bringing success in the early church. They are:
1. They devoted themselves to "the apostles teaching" (The Word of God)
2. They devoted themselves to "fellowship."
3. They devoted themselves to "the breaking of bread." (The celebration of communion.)
4. They devoted themselves to "prayer."
We have also seen the results of their commitment in these 4 basic areas.
1. "Everyone was filled with awe."
2. "Many wonders and miraculous signs were done."
3. "All believers were together and had everything in common."
4. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." (Wow, talk about unselfishness.)
5. They regularly met together "with glad and sincere hearts."
6. "Enjoying the favor of all people."
7. "The Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
As I mentioned at the very start, what an incredible passage. The truth is, it is incredible enough that it ever took place, but its incredibleness multiplies at the thought that is wasn't exclusive to the early church. These things can take place today as well. Oh, perhaps it may not take place in the same magnitude, that it took place in the early church. There was a unique freshness to everything back then because so many had witnessed first hand the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. However, that does not change the amazing thing that can still take place if we devote ourselves in those 4 areas. If we will devote ourselves to "the apostles' teaching", to the reading and application of the Word of God, we will inevitably grow stronger in our relationship to God. We cannot help but be impacted by His Word. We will also find that our struggle with sin will decrease.
Which is also a result of His Word impacting our lives. If we will devote ourselves more fully to the "fellowship", it won't take long before we realize that we aren't in this alone. The fact of the matter is, if you are actively involved in a good church where there are many committed and growing Christians you will find out that no matter what struggle you are facing, someone else in your fellowship has already walked that road, or one very similar to it. They can come along side you and help you grow through the struggle. If we will devote ourselves more fully to "the breaking of the bread" the picture in our mind's eye of what Christ did for us on the cross can't help but impact our relationship with Him. I can't imagine not wanting to more fully live for Him, when we think of His death for us. If we will more fully devote ourselves to "prayer", the power of that prayer answering God, will become more evident in our lives. That will not only have a pronounced impact on our own life, but on the lives of others as well.
In the mid nineties the most powerful team in college football was the Nebraska Cornhuskers. They won three championships in four years and only missed the fourth by about a yard as a would-be game winning full goal sailed wide to the left. Yet as I look back on those teams, I see that they weren't filled with a bunch of superstars. The NFL has a ton of players from colleges like Miami, Florida and Florida State. Very few from Nebraska, yet they faced each other in head to head competition, Nebraska didn't just beat them, they dominated them, even though those other teams had more talent. What made Nebraska different? They had a few key areas they devoted themselves to and together they applied themselves as a team, to those areas. The same holds true for the church. It doesn't have to be loaded with superstars, just ordinary people with a strong devotion to a few key areas and the life changing success will be incredible. "And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
Becoming more devoted each day,
Monday, January 29, 2007
Acts 2:42-47 "42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved."
This brings us to the next basic area, the early church devoted themselves to "the breaking of bread." What we are talking about here is not sharing meals together, not only is that addressed in verse 46 but chances are, it would also fall under the category of "fellowship." What we are talking about here is communion. Perhaps you are taken a bit off guard at having such an emphasis on communion. I mean, what's the big deal here? Most churches today have communion once a month if that. How is it such a key to the success of the early church? Would you go on a little trip with me for a moment? Let's take a trip back in time. Watch your head as you step into my time machine. Now, have a seat and make yourself comfortable. Let's go back close to 2000 years. Now I need to warn you ahead of time, you are about to witness some pretty graphic scenes. This trip is not for the weak of stomach individual. Could you please pull the door shut behind you? Thanks, and turn that handle till it locks into place. My hand reaches for a knob or two, push a button. All of the sudden you feel the little time machine start to rumble, the lights flicker off and on. You watch the numbers on the display start to fly backwards as you hear it hum.
Then the humming slows down, the numbers slow down until suddenly everything stops. The little chamber fills with mist. I reach for the handle, turn it and open the door. You follow me as we step out into the sunlight. There is almost a deafening roar rising into the air; "Crucify Him!" came the angry cries. A voice to the right yells, "Give us Barabas!" To the left, "Yes and crucify Jesus!" The crowd roars in agreement. You look at the faces of the people shouting in utter disbelief. You move in anger to the man to the left, "No, you don't know what you're saying. This is Jesus, the Son of God!" Immediately those close by turn their anger on you. The man you just shouted at pushes you in anger. You fall back to the ground, look up and see faces filled with hatred. One man puts his foot on your chest pints his finger to the front of the crowd and says, "Would you like to join Him?" Your eyes move from the angry crowd to the one at the front. Face covered with blood and bruises, badly swollen from multiple blows, your stomach churns at the sight of the badly disfigured man. Somehow, you didn't picture this scene nearly as gruesome as it actually was. To the right of the One you now know as Jesus, stood a man in a regal robe. He steps to a basin, washes his hands and declared, "I am innocent of this man's blood, it is your responsibility!" The man whose foot was still firmly planted on your chest shouted, "Let His blood be on us and on our children!" While the shouts grew louder, the foot lifted from your chest as the crowd moved forward. You stood to your feet in disbelief at what was taking place. Taking everything in, you look at each face, then in absolute horror, you see something in their faces that sickens you. You fight back the vomit at what you see. In each and every face, you see a bit of yourself. Your eyes well up with tears as you realize, had you really been there that day, those shouts would have been yours. You turn and look at me, tears now flowing down your cheeks,
"Please take me away from this place."
"We have one more stop before we can return."
"I want to return now!"
"No, this is a stop we really need to make."
We step back into the time machine, pulling and latching the door behind us. I make a few adjustments, push a button. The machine whirs, then quickly stops. You watch as I open the door, then follow me into the sunlight. We find ourselves in the midst of a small crowd. A hush comes over the crowd as a man steps forward turns and faces the crowd, then begins to speak. "We come here today as a part of a sacred celebration. As you all know full well, I was with Jesus the night He was betrayed. That was a night I will never forget. It was a night I never want to forget. My heart grieves at the thought of my denial of Jesus that night. Yet at the same time, I rejoice because since that day, I have felt the touch of my Master's hand. He has lifted His cup of forgiveness to my lips and I have tasted its sweet juices. We have all come here today to celebrate and to remember. Take a minute and look around you." Your eyes began to move about the room. Everywhere you looked the tears flowed. Then, you saw him. Not 2 feet from you was the angry man from the mob. The one whose foot pushed heavily on your chest, who shouted "Let His blood be on us and our children." His body shook as he wept. At his side, stood 2 small boys. Here he was remembering the one whose blood he shouted for. Then, the man from the front began to speak again. He looked back in our directions and pointed to the man you had been watching. "Simeon, come here to me." With a broken and contrite spirit, Simeon walked to the man I figured to be Peter. "Why do you weep so, my friend?" Simeon's eyes never left the floor. "I called for His blood, not just upon me but my children as well." Peter reached under his chin, lifted his head and looked deep into his eyes. "And His blood you have received. It is the very blood you shouted for that we are here to remember today. It is that blood that enables me, the one who denied three times that – I even knew who He was, that blood enables me to stand before you today not broken but forgiven. Simeon, the difference between you and me on that day is this – you didn't fully understand what you were doing. I completely understand yet still denied Him. I find it hard to believe that He could ever forgive me, but I am not so foolish as to deny the blood you called for, and today, I echo your words. 'May His blood be upon us and our children.'"
With that, his eyes left Simeon and looked out over the crowd. Then he lifted a piece of unleavened bread above his head. "My brothers and sisters, this bread represents the body of Jesus." At that, he broke the bread in two. "His body that was broken for us, take and eat this bread, remembering His body broken for us." With that, the crowd made its way to the front and one by one took a piece of the broken bread and ate it. It was very clear to me that everyone's minds were drawn to the broken body of Jesus as He hung on the cross that day. When everyone was finished, Peter lifted a cup of wine above his head. "My brothers and sisters, the wine in this cup represents the blood of Jesus." His hand touched the shoulder of Simeon, the blood that many of us called for. "No, let me change that, it is the blood that the sins of all of us shouted for that day." He smiled softly as he looked up at the cup, "May His blood be on us and our children! May we never ever forget that blood, and my we joyously taste the sweet cleansing power of that blood until the day we see Him face to face." After he said those words, the disciples that were with him passed their cups among the crowd. Each mind was drawn to the bleeding Messiah as they sipped from the cup. As sweeter taste never graced their tongues before. When the last person drank from the cup, we made our way back to the time machine. Soon we are back to the present.
I don't know about you, but for me, communion will never again be the same. It was your sin and mine that loudly shouted that day "May His blood be on us and on our children." Remembering the broken body of Jesus, and the cleansing power of His blood will always be major keys to the success of the church in every age. "May His blood be on us and on our children."
Desperately in need of the blood,