Faith

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….

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….

Why Now and Not Then?

Why Now and Not Then?

i am currently writing the final book in the series Lessons Learned in the Wilderness. The book, entitled Until He Returns, focuses on the truths that God teaches us through the early church as recorded in the Book of Acts. In the third chapter of Acts we come across the man who was born lame. Each day his friends or family brought him to the Beautiful gate so he could beg from those who were entering the Temple. That had been taking place for a long time – so it got me to thinking…

Two months earlier, Jesus arrived in Jerusalem and was greeted by the multitude who was praising Him with shouts of “Hosanna!” Jesus’ journey ended at the Temple where He dismounted. He then entered the Outer Court and quietly walked around, looking, but not saying anything. He then made His way through the Beautiful Gate into the hall of prayer. There were a number of people begging at the gate. Some were lame. Some were blind. The lame man was more than likely one of them. Each had been brought by family members or friends in the hopes that their friend or loved one would receive charity – or possibly a miracle of healing. Jesus looked on the people with compassion. He didn’t ignore them, but on that day He didn’t stop to heal them. He continued on into the Temple and spent time in prayer. He and His disciples then quietly left.

Jesus returned the next day which was Monday….

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.

I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine

Again, this is not the blog that i planned to post this week. My plan has again been redirected by life. Our plans often are. But not to the same degree as the life of another one of my friends. Yesterday, i was with my dear friend Amaury Santos whose wife, Stephanie, passed away last week without any warning due to a sudden heart attack. This was my second time in as many weeks to stand with friends who were walking through that unwelcome experience. Both of these dear women had been in perfect health. Neither of them had shown any previous signs of health issues. Both of them were going about their active lives when death suddenly occurred. Both were living lives of great Kingdom impact, and we would have expected both of them to enjoy many more years of life on this earth ahead. Then in a moment, both had suddenly – and unexpectedly – entered into the presence of the Lord, and their husbands and children had been left to walk through the unwelcome valley of the shadow of death and sorrow.

As I spoke with both of these friends, I told them that “i cannot imagine” the pain and the sorrow they are experiencing. i have not walked that road, and i cannot pretend to understand what they are feeling or experiencing.