What A Beautiful Name

What A Beautiful Name

As we gathered in worship this past Sunday, we sang the song “What a Beautiful Name” by Hillsong (lyrics below). As we sang those words, i was reminded of a glorious confession of truth that we would all do well to embrace.

The lyricists write: 

Death could not hold You, The veil tore before You
You silenced the boast of sin and grave….
Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus

More often than not, we think of those words in light of Christ’s bodily resurrection on Easter morning. And there is no question that should cause us to rejoice. But there was reason for rejoicing even before that occurred. When Jesus declared, “It is finished” (John 19:30 NLT), He also said, “Father, I entrust My spirit into Your hands” (Luke 23:46 NLT). Let us not forget that Jesus was as much man as if He was not God at all. At the moment of His death, His soul and spirit immediately departed from His physical body – which is the exact same thing that will occur for you and me at the moment of our deaths (if Jesus doesn’t return before then). 

We would do well to remember….

Contagious Faith

Contagious Faith

One of my favorite movie scenes is from the 1989 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Henry V”. The English noblemen and their outnumbered and less-skilled troops stand in the moments before the bloody Battle of Agincourt. The noblemen are lamenting the overwhelming odds that the French have over them and are maligning the many Englishmen who have chosen to stay at home in their warm beds instead of joining their fellow countrymen on the field of battle. Morale is at a low; the English are all but defeated before the battle has even commenced. Having heard these laments from the shadows, Shakespeare’s King Harry (played in the movie by Kenneth Branagh) steps forth and begins to rally his troops with an impassioned speech. By its conclusion, his troops are celebrating that they are few in number, and are inspired to advance “once more unto the breach”. Though the speech is a work of fiction, it is evocative of the contagious spirit of courage and conviction with which King Harry led.

In Joshua 2, we read about two spies that Joshua sent into the Promised Land. As they surveyed Jericho, they narrowly escaped arrest within the walled city and were given refuge by a prostitute by the name of Rahab….

Have You Encountered Any Giants Lately?

Have You Encountered Any Giants Lately?

Giants are those challenges or obstacles that we encounter in our journey through life that appear to be insurmountable and undefeatable. Sometimes they are people, but more often they are the circumstances that we are facing. They are larger than life and are overwhelming and intimidating. They stand between us and the realization of the promise that God has given us; and they pride themselves on confronting people that are already journeying through the uncertainty of a wilderness journey. Do not think they are an illusion. Not only do they look like they could defeat you, in many instances they truly do have their hearts set on doing just that.

Meet Og. Og was an Amorite king who lived in the city of Bashan. His kingdom was on the east side of the Jordan River. His kingdom was not truly a part of the land that God had promised the Israelites. The Israelites were simply planning to pass through his kingdom on the way to the Promised Land. But Og, like the other Amorite kings, decided that he wasn’t going to permit them to do so. He was going to stand in their way. Og had heard about the defeat of the other Amorite kings by the God of the Israelites; but that did not dissuade him. As far as he was concerned, that was them, but he was Og! 

A Firm Foundation

A Firm Foundation

Where do we put our trust when the road ahead is uncertain? What do we build our lives upon when the ground beneath us is shaking? Where do we turn when the world around us is seemingly spinning out of control?

Peter had just been restored by Jesus to walk in the way that the Lord was placing before him. He had confessed his undying love for his Savior. But Jesus had just also explained that Peter would follow Jesus to his death – a death on the cross. Then Jesus said, “Follow Me.” It wasn’t the first time that Jesus had told Peter to follow Him – and it wouldn’t be the last. Jesus would remind him – and encourage him – to follow Him every day – regardless of what was in the path ahead – and regardless of what was going on around him – until his journey on this earth was completed. This moment may have been the last that Jesus stood in front of Peter physically and told him to “Follow Me”, but He would continue to do so through His Spirit. Peter’s journey with Jesus was not ending there on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:18-23), nor would it end a few days later at the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:1-11) when Jesus ascended into heaven one last time. His journey with Jesus would continue throughout eternity – for a finite period on this side of glory – and for an infinite period on the other side of glory….

Press On (even when the ship goes down)

Press On (even when the ship goes down)

In last week’s blog post, we looked at the assurance of God’s faithfulness as we encounter the storms of life. We looked at the storm that Jesus and the disciples encountered as they crossed the Sea of Galilee. We again witnessed His faithfulness in bringing His disciples safely to the shore. We were reminded that we can be confident in His miraculous ability to still storms that arise in our lives. But what do we do when He doesn’t still the storm? What do we do when the ship goes down?

The apostle Paul together with two hundred sixty-six other men found themselves in the midst of one of those storms in the Mediterranean Sea. A few in the group of prisoners, soldiers and sailors were followers of Jesus, but the large majority were not. It was Paul who had earlier expressed safety concerns to the ship’s officers before the storm arose, recommending that they find a safe harbor for the winter. But the ship’s owner and captain, motivated by their own personal avarice, assured the Roman centurion (the patron of the trip) that the journey could be made. Given the option of listening to experienced sailors or a tentmaker, the centurion opted to follow the advice of the former. 

Ultimately the ship was battered by gale-force winds that raged for days….

It Is Well

It Is Well

There is a difference between hoping and knowing. Most often we use the word “hope” when we want something to happen, but we are not 100% certain that it will. We “hope” and pray that the operation will go well, or the job will come through, or everything will work out. Whereas we use the word “know” when we have 100% certainty. To “know” is to have an understanding that is irrefutably truthful and factual; it cannot be contested.

In our world today, “truth” can be difficult to nail down – just spend two minutes reading or listening to the news! Truth has become relative and ever-changing. When truth is no longer absolute, we can no longer “know” with absolute certainty. We are left with little choice but to hope. As followers of Christ, we will readily confess that our “hope” is in Him. But what does that really mean in light of the storm that is immediately in front of us?

It Seemed Good To The Spirit

It Seemed Good To The Spirit

Whenever God is at work, there will often be people who attempt to put their mark on the work. They will endeavor to either add to, or take away from, the gospel. Often times, it is not an intentional attempt to distort the gospel; rather, it is borne out of personal, cultural or traditional influences. A group of men from Judea were deriding the Holy Spirit’s saving work among the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 15). They believed that one could not be saved apart from the requirements of the law of Moses. Though they themselves had received salvation by believing in Jesus, they also believed that the laws they had followed since birth were a part of their salvation. They were mixing their personal religious experiences with salvation through Christ, and teaching a distorted gospel. They were saying that a Gentile had to first become a Jew in order to become a Christian. In essence they were saying that simply trusting in Jesus Christ wasn’t sufficient; they also had to obey Moses.

Peter himself had learned that salvation is not decided by whether one eats meat or doesn’t eat meat, or whether one eats pork or doesn’t eat pork. Salvation is not dependent upon whether we gather to worship on Sunday, or the Sabbath, or another day. It is not the result of keeping the Law, going through a ritual, or joining a church. We are all sinners before God, for whom Christ died on the cross. He was buried and rose again. He paid the price and extends His salvation to us by His grace which we receive through faith. There is one need, and there is but one gospel – with nothing to be added to, or subtracted from, it.

The church can still be guilty of trying to add to it today ….

Taught By A Master

Taught By A Master

This morning i was reminded that six years ago today, i stood in the presence of a master craftsman. i must confess i do not know the craftsman’s name. i had never seen him prior to that day, and i haven’t seen him since – except in my mind’s eye. We didn’t speak the same language, so all we could do was smile and nod at each other. Regrettably, i do not know anything about the man beyond what i observed in the moment. But as i stood there that morning riveted in his presence, i knew it was a moment i would never forget – and a lesson that would forever be etched in my memory.

i was standing in a blown glass and ceramic manufacturing shop in the city of Hebron in the West Bank. This master craftsman and i were about the same age. He had the appearance of a man who had worked hard all of his life. He went about his craft in a way that clearly evidenced his mastery. No effort was wasted. Each and every step had purpose. He started with a simple indistinguishable rod of glass. But from the beginning, i could tell that he was not seeing what it looked like now – he saw what he was shaping it to become….

It Is What It Is - Or Is It?

It Is What It Is - Or Is It?

Over the last fifty years, the idiom “it is what it is” has sprung forth from the fatalists in our midst who firmly believe that we are victims -- victims of our circumstances, our situations, our upbringing, our medical condition, etc. It communicates that we have resigned ourselves to the belief that our situation is immutable, and nothing or no one can change it. It is used to convey a sense of resignation, helplessness and hopelessness. “That’s just the way I am.” “That’s just the way my spouse is.” “That’s just the way my kids are.” “That’s just how people like me are treated.” “That’s just the way the system works.” “It’s always been this way, and it will never change.”

But the fact of the matter is that we will never know the truth of any situation until we have heard from God. In His world, an immutable truth is that sin separates us from a Holy God. And He Himself made the way – the only way -- whereby we might overcome that immutable truth. He is not dead; He’s alive. He is not distant. He is not silent. He is not weak. His arm has not grown short. He is mighty and He is able to save – spiritually, physically, and emotionally. Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus healed. He raised the dead. He stilled storms. He met physical needs. He was the King of the reality that “it is NOT what it is, if Jesus says it isn’t”. And He still is! What He began to do through His earthly ministry, He still does. He is still full of surprises – for individuals, for families, for churches, and even for nations….

Whatever

Whatever

In the late 20th century, the one-word retort – “whatever” – arrived on the scene. It was either used to affirm a previous statement along the lines of “whatever you say”, or to express indifferent acceptance of a particular circumstance in the spirit of “Que Sera Sera”, or as a passive-aggressive counter intended to block further conversation on a subject. In some circles, the retort is still used today. It has been so overused that some would consider it to be one of the most annoying words used in conversation. And i would agree!

We live in a day of ever declining courtesy, civility and collegiality within society – and even more disturbingly, within the body of Christ. We would be wrong to lay the blame on the ubiquitous influence of social media as being the root cause. i am a firm believer that “whatever comes up in the bucket was already down in the well.” Social media may be the most-used hoist to bring the bucket to the surface at an appalling rate, but the issue remains with what is “down in the well”. This issue becomes even more disconcerting as we witness the cacophony of uncivil – and more importantly, ungodly – expressions from men and women who hold positions of leadership within the bride of Christ, whether it be the local church, or any of its parachurch institutions or entities. The fact of the matter is that we, as followers of Jesus, are called to be His light in a dark world. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). The purpose is not that our works are seen, but rather that the Father is glorified. There is no glory ascribed to the Father through the mud-slinging we are witnessing on social media. We must again learn how to converse – and even debate – without being unholy and profane – as brothers and sisters in Christ….