Christianity

A Celebration - Great Are You, Lord!

A Celebration - Great Are You, Lord!

Today is our Baby Girl’s thirtieth birthday. Happy Birthday, Precious Girl! It is hard to believe. In some respects it seems like yesterday. It was an early Monday morning. In what seemed like a moment, we witnessed the birth of a new life. (Remember, i’m the dad; i am certain it seemed much longer than a moment for LaVonne!) i remember her little cry as she took that first breath into her lungs. i remember that somehow the birthing room suddenly seemed brighter. i remember that my wife’s pain and travail in labor were now passed and had now been replaced simultaneously by relief, peace, joy and calm. Immediately our hearts were filled with love for this precious addition to our family. That love was not something that needed to develop over time – it was immediate, just as it had been at the birth of her older brother before her. And our love for one another did not diminish because it now included another; rather, our capacity to love was increased. The birth of a new life is a precious gift from our Creator… an amazing gift… and a gift for a lifetime… and beyond.  

But our God is not only the Giver of physical life, He is the Giver of eternal life….

A Drink At Joel's Place

A Drink At Joel's Place

As i write this i am in South Florida. Yesterday we experienced a brief tropical front of rushing wind and pouring rain. As i listened to the sound of the wind, i was reminded of that day recorded in Scripture when “suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind” (Acts 2:1 ESV). That led me in my thoughts to the message that Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost.  It is the prophecy of the last days as recorded by the prophet Joel. Joel was writing that the day of the Lord’s return would be heralded by the pouring out of the Spirit of God. This should not seem strange or contrary. Those gathered on the Day of Pentecost listening to Peter were witnessing the fulfillment of the beginnings of that prophecy. The day was coming when all of the prophecy would be fulfilled, but on that day they were seeing a glimpse of it. As the people looked and stared at a group of Galileans they would have been incredulous. The announcement that the Holy Spirit was being poured out upon a group of Galileans would have seemed incredible to the Jews, because they thought God’s Spirit was only given to a few select people (Numbers 11:28-29). But here were one hundred twenty of the followers of Jesus – men and women – enjoying the blessing of the same Holy Spirit that had empowered Moses, David and the prophets. The last days had dawned with the arrival of Jesus – and they would come to a climax with His return. The arrival of the Holy Spirit affirmed that they had entered into the first of those last days as foretold by the prophets.

Joel wrote that one feature of the last days will be the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on people of every kind – men and women, young and old, high and low. God's people will be clothed with power; they will receive power. And the main effect of this power seems to be bold, prophetic speech. Believers of all kinds are going to be so gripped by the Spirit of God that they see the greatness of Jesus and the purpose of Jesus with extraordinary clarity and speak it with extraordinary boldness. The people were seeing that take place before their eyes – from Galileans no less.

But though Joel’s prophecy pointed to a period of time that began on that day of Pentecost, it is a prophecy that points to the return of Christ. That means that we are in the midst of those days – until He returns….

You Are Special

You Are Special

Recently i was reintroduced to the children’s book entitled “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. The story is about little wooden people who are called “Wemmicks”. Wemmicks spend their days scurrying about sticking gold stars on those who are pretty and talented, or gray dots on those who make mistakes. But on this particular day in the story, the stickering is all the more important because the Festival is at hand. The envied “Most Stars Award” and the dreaded “Most Dots Award” are about to be given out. Poor Punchinello is sure to be a shoo-in for the Most Dots. But thanks to a new friend, he is about to learn a very important lesson that no matter how others may judge our worth, God cherishes each of us just as we are.

That is a lesson we would all do well to remember. We live in a world that is obsessed with awarding stars and conferring dots, and we distribute them abundantly, utilizing all the means at our disposal. Social media has become our most preferred mode of rendering our judgement of stars or dots to the extent that we judge worth based upon the number of “likes” or “follows”….

Waiting on God

Waiting on God

Through the Lessons Learned In The Wilderness books, God has enabled me to come in contact with many who have found themselves “camped” in the wilderness. Each day i am receiving emails or social media messages from people who are awaiting the fulfillment of a promise that God has given them. Often the comments are shared as a prayer request reflecting a desperation to see God’s answer regarding the healing of a loved one, a needed new job, the pain of a broken relationship, a heart cry to have a child, and much more. In many of those instances the waiting has been going on for months or years, and, in some cases, decades. My prayer list is growing daily with the requests.

Here are just two of those requests: A young woman is currently awaiting visa approval to come join her husband in the U.S. The process continues to lengthen as one hurdle after another has been added. In the meantime, this young couple waits on different continents for the Lord to bring about a swift resolution to their immigration conundrum. 

A family has responded to God’s call to serve Him in another part of the world as tentmakers. “Tentmakers” means that they need to have employment in that new country. For two years they have taken each step that the Lord has placed before them. They got rid of most of their earthly possessions and moved across continents on nothing more than a word from God. Today they shared a praise that they have received a job offer. There are still steps to be taken for everything to be finalized, but this offer is a huge step in that direction. It would appear that after two years their wait may be over. But, in other respects, their journey may have just begun.

Scripture is full of people who were waiting on God.

Plus Ultra

Plus Ultra

We continue to pray for those who, this past Easter Sunday morning in Sri Lanka, lost friends or family members, or sustained injury themselves due to the senseless acts of violence perpetrated by a group of anti-Christian terrorists. We join together in praying for comfort for those who have lost family members and friends, and recovery for those who sustained injury. And we pray that those who perpetrated such heinous acts will be swiftly brought to justice. i echo the statement issued by Dr. Russell Moore (president of the SBC Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission), “The governing authorities must bring this anti-Christian terrorist cell, and any who empowered them, to justice. The shedding of innocent human blood is always an atrocity; an attack on Easter is further shocking in its cruelty." On a day when Christians all over the world were remembering and celebrating the life that can be ours through the shed blood and resurrection of Jesus, such a vicious act was a sobering reminder of the death that sin brings and the death grip that sin continues to have on our world. Ironically the very message of the day – the message of Christ’s resurrection – is the reality that sin and death have been defeated, and that the free gift of life is extended without limitation by His grace to all who will receive it.

The incident has caused me to be reminded of a story that i first heard from my friend and former pastor, Dr. Keith Thomas….

A Very Personal Encounter

A Very Personal Encounter

This Sunday we celebrate the day that Jesus arose from the grave. It was a very busy day for Jesus – He covered a lot of ground that day. It was an emotional day for all of His followers – they experienced the full range of emotions. But it was also a very personal day for at least one of His followers.

Mark and Luke tell us that early in the morning Mary Magdalene, Mary (the wife of Clopas), Salome (the wife of Zebedee), Joanna (the wife of Chuza) and at least one other woman arrived at the tomb with their ointments and spices planning to complete the burial preparations of the body of Jesus. They were the first to discover the empty tomb. Without even stepping into the tomb, Mary Magdalene immediately set off to find Peter and John to tell them that Jesus’ body had been taken. She left before the two angels announced to the other women that Jesus had risen from the dead. 

Having found Peter and John, Mary Magdalene returned with them to the tomb. John and Peter ran ahead to see for themselves. Neither Peter nor John appeared to be running toward the tomb expecting that Jesus had risen. Rather, they were questioning the accuracy of Mary Magdalene’s report and wanted to confirm whether or not His body was still in the tomb. Upon their arrival, they too confirmed that His body was gone. John tells us in His Gospel that it was then that he believed that Jesus had in fact risen from the dead. The Gospels do not tell us that Peter had that same conviction. As a matter of fact, whether it was because he was still devastated over his denial of Jesus or he was still so overcome by sorrow, he appears to have left the tomb with his heart being even heavier now that Jesus’ body had apparently been taken.

Why Simon?

Why Simon?

Simon was a popular name among first century Jews. We see a number of men by the name of Simon mentioned in the Gospels. To name a few: Simon, the fisherman who Jesus renamed Peter; Simon, the zealot who also became a disciple; Simon, the Pharisee who hosted Jesus for dinner; Simon, the healed leper who also hosted Jesus for dinner (who John may have called Lazarus); and Simon, from Cyrene who was forced to carry Jesus’ cross. Let’s look at this last Simon – and what all of us can learn from him.

Mark records, “A passerby named Simon, who was from Cyrene, was coming in from the countryside just then, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus’ cross. (Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.)” (Mark 15:21)

According to Roman law, one who was found guilty and condemned to death was required to carry his cross, or at least the cross beam, to the place of his crucifixion. Jesus left the Praetorium bearing His cross, but along the way the Roman soldiers conscripted Simon the Cyrene to carry Jesus’ cross.

Let’s look at why …

Friends

Friends

This week i have had several reminders of life-long friendships. This week is the seventy-fifth anniversary of my parents’ marriage. Though they have both now been in heaven for a number of years, the impact of their “lifelong-friendship” continues through the lives of their children, their grandchildren and their great grandchildren. Also, today i had lunch with a friend whose wife suddenly and unexpectedly passed a few weeks ago. The fruit of their life-long friendship will also continue. True friendship lives on. True friendship has purpose. True friendship has lasting impact.

It was a Thursday night, two thousand years ago. Jesus would be arrested in just a matter of hours. The disciples would all abandon Him and scatter before the night was out. At that moment He was the only One who knew what was about to occur, as He and His disciples made their journey across the Kidron Valley from the upper room to the Garden of Gethsemane. Earlier that night, He showed them that He was their Servant as He knelt before them and washed their feet. Then He explained that He was their Savior as He broke the bread and passed it together with the cup representing His body and blood that would be broken and shed. Though the disciples did not realize it, Jesus was sharing His “last words” with them. They would see Him a few more times after He arose from the grave, but this was His last time to pour into them as their Master and Teacher. For three years He had been their Teacher. Earlier He had shown them that He is their Servant. Tomorrow He would demonstrate that He is their Savior. On Sunday He would show them that He is their Risen Lord. But for now, He wanted them to know that they are His friends. Even though they would abandon Him, He still called them His friends. Jesus said, “ I no longer call you slaves, because a master doesn’t confide in his slaves. Now you are My friends, since I have told you everything the Father told Me.You didn’t choose Me. I chose you” (John 15:15-16).

Which Son Are You?

Which Son Are You?

Since we are in the midst of the forty days of Lent (March 6 – April 18), i thought it would be timely to look at four truths that Jesus taught His disciples and those who crowded around Him during that final week leading up to His crucifixion. i plan to look at one truth each week for the next four weeks, starting with today.

It was Tuesday, the third day of the week leading up to His crucifixion. Jesus had arrived in the temple to teach as was His practice. The religious leaders were irate over Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple the day before. Through that action, He had clearly challenged their authority and they were attempting to dispute His. The problem was that they were ill-equipped for the challenge. They exerted their authority over the people through the pretense of their outward piety. There was not any real substance to their relationship with God. They were just going through the motions – speaking one way and acting in another. So Jesus confronted them with this parable:

Do It Again

Do It Again

Several years ago, my wife LaVonne and i traveled with a team of university students to a country in the Middle East. God had granted us an opportunity to “sow seeds of the gospel” in a place where there were no known churches and very few followers of Jesus. Ironically enough, we were going to one of the places where the gospel was first proclaimed by the Apostle Paul and others two thousand years ago, but, in recent days, the lies of false religion had taken hold and now very few knew the truth.

The “seeds” we were sowing were four-fold. First, we would conversationally share our testimonies and the good news of the gospel whenever we had opportunity with those who could speak some English, since only a few of our team members knew the indigenous language. The second and third seeds were, respectively, videos and CDs in the native language that told the story of Jesus and the truth of the gospel. The fourth seed was a written booklet explaining the gospel in the indigenous language. In enlisting our help, our partner informed us that he had not previously done what he was asking us to do among this group of people. He had no idea how the people would react or respond to us. Since, at the time, we also had never done this before in this particular context, it would be a new experience for all of us – our team, our partner, and the people we would meet.