Jesus

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.

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.

More Like Jesus

More Like Jesus

He must increase, but I must decrease.(John 3:30 ESV)

Today, as i read that verse, i was reminded of a brother in Christ i met several years ago (this very week) by the name of H. J. Sadhu Dayapara. Brother Dayapara was a 70-year-old pastor faithfully serving his Lord in the City of Bangalore, in the State of Karnataka, India. Several friends and i were in Bangalore to lead a three-day visioning retreat for pastors that were serving throughout the State of Karnataka. To this day, i will never understand why the Lord directed for us to be the presenters at the conference for these brothers. As i stood before them, i knew that it was i who needed to be sitting at their feet, learning from them.

Pastor Dayapara sat there on the very front row all three days, taking in everything that we shared. Though we were separated by a language barrier, we were drawn together by a kinship in Jesus. Throughout our time together, as i watched him and listened to him (through an interpreter), i was drawn to the image of Jesus that radiated through him. i was overwhelmed by the humility and overflow of the fruit of the spirit that was pouring out of this brother. He did not pastor a large church, and probably never would, but he bore all the characteristics of a good and faithful shepherd, who was as much concerned about the one as he was about the ninety-nine. His life bore witness that Jesus was his life and his treasure, his desire and his dream, his purpose and his path. His life evidenced the very truth that John the Baptist spoke – “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Monday Morning

Monday Morning

This is not the blog i intended to post this week. We’ll save that one for another day. But this morning i read a statement by Henry Blackaby: “Are you willing to follow Jesus anywhere, at any time, under any condition?

On Monday morning two good friends awoke together, just as they had for over thirty-five years of Monday mornings. They probably walked through their typical morning routines then headed off in their respective directions as they followed Jesus in pursuit of all that was in store for the day. Little did they know the turns the day would take.

Lord, What About Him (or Her)?

Lord, What About Him (or Her)?

Several years ago i participated in a wilderness safety, survival and security training in the mountains of Idaho with about thirty other people. Though i didn’t know most of the folks going into the training, a shared experience like that creates a bond that sticks with you for the rest of your lives. Two of those folks – a husband and wife – and i were teamed together for several of the exercises. They – like the rest – will forever hold a special place in my heart. Over the years since then, i have seen God use this couple – Steve and Laura – in phenomenal ways in the advancement of the message of the Good News across the globe. He has ordered their steps and worked through them to have eternal impact for the Kingdom. In the midst of that activity, Steve was diagnosed with liver cancer. In recent months, he has been in and out of the hospital – more in than out. The physical battle is intense – and while we pray for healing, we pray for grace and strength, and restorative rest in the midst of the battle. i am mindful that one of their prayer requests is that God would grant Steve the time on this side of glory to finish the work that He has placed before him. (i would ask you to join with many throughout the world who are interceding on behalf of this dear couple and their family.)

 

In times like these, we tend to want to ask God, why them?