Jesus

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….

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….

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?

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….

A Divine Appointment

A Divine Appointment

Divine appointments can occur at the most unexpected times and in the most unexpected ways. Just ask Philip. He was in the midst of a great spiritual awakening that was spreading throughout Samaria (Acts 8). God was using him in a great way, and many were repenting of their sins and believing in Jesus, when an angel of the Lord told him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.” God was directing him to leave a work among the multitudes to go to a desolate place. That doesn’t necessarily align with a successful career path from a human perspective – even if you’re a pastor. Whenever we hear a pastor announce that God has called him to go elsewhere, it is rarely to a smaller church. And such a move would be even more difficult, if we are serving in a place where the power and the presence of the Spirit of God is mightily at work, and many are coming to faith and the church is growing. But such was the case with Philip. 

We aren’t told whether or not he had a conversation with God as to the wisdom of such a move. However, with all we do know about Philip and his walk with God, i tend to think that he immediately set out on the journey to Gaza without ever questioning God. He was in Samaria because God had placed him there. The work that was occurring in Samaria was a work of the Spirit of God, and not of Philip. i don’t believe that Philip ever got confused about who was in charge. i don’t believe he ever tried to take any credit, or saw himself as being instrumental in any way. He was a man full of faith and full of the Holy Spirit – led by, empowered by and used by God for His purpose. Therefore, it didn’t matter whether the assignment was in Samaria, Gaza or Azotus. All that mattered was that he was in the place where God would have him.

Throughout my years serving with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, i had the privilege of meeting thousands of men and women who….

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….

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 …