Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Guilty Gone Free

Isaiah 53:5  “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

I stood in the courtroom, the tension of impending judgement filled the air.  I looked around the courtroom, anxiously trying to identify the accused.  I wanted to see his face before the judge came in.  I wanted to try to understand what he was thinking.  I wondered how he would react to the verdict we all knew was coming.  Silence came to the courtroom as the officers opened the door to the judge’s chamber, but still I could not see the guilty.  Just then I noticed that while some in the courtroom were watching for the judge to emerge from his chamber, everyone else was looking at me.

Then it came over me like a flood of crushing memory…I was the accused.  It was the evidence in my case that lay exposed before the judge’s bench.  I stood now on the brink of disaster, of the forfeiture of my life, for my crimes were deep and severe, and the punishment to come would certainly reflect the seriousness of my guilt.  There was no way I would be able to pay the fines due for my offenses, no other plea.  I had numbed myself to the reality of my plight, causing myself to look at others for signs of guilt, but all the while it was me.

Quickly, my mind raced…perhaps I could convince the judge that I had changed and that I would never commit such crimes again.  Maybe he would give me credit for all of the other “good” things I had accomplished.  Or perhaps, he might let me go if I offered to do him some favor.  But what favor could be so great that he would turn a blind eye to my case?  No, he was a just judge…he would never pervert justice like that!  My shoulders sank at the dawning realization that nothing would suffice, nothing could shield me from the inevitable.  My only plea was for mercy.  

As the judgement was declared, the word “Guilty” rang in my ears, and all in attendance seemed to finally exhale.  The judge quietly asked, “Do you have anything you wish to say before I render your sentence?”.  I could not even look up at him. I simply whispered, “Please…sir…have mercy.”  The courtroom once again fell silent.

My head was still hanging heavy under the shame I felt, and so I didn’t understand the rustle of cloth and the squeak of an old wooden chair that broke the silence of the room as the judge rose from the bench.  Then, I looked up, confused as I saw the judge stepping down from his perch and walking over to the bailiff of the court.  Bewildered, I watched him pull out his pen and write out a check for the full amount of my fine.  As he handed it to the bailiff, he turned to me, and with tears of compassion in his eyes he said, “You are now free to leave the court, not because you are innocent, but because your fine has been paid.  You are forgiven.”  

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, stepped down to pay the penalty for the sins of humanity by offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice that would satisfy eternal justice.  The conflict of God’s loving kindness for humanity, and His absolute adherence to justice found its resolution in the cross of Jesus as His body was broken, and His blood was spilled on our behalf.  Forgiveness of sins is available to all who would surrender their self-made claims  of innocence, and simply cry out for mercy.  God stands ready to heal the wounds of our sin and cleanse the slate of our past.  Come to Jesus, and be saved!

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

An Appointment with a Donkey

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”  Zechariah 9:9

Many times in Jesus’ ministry, the people who heard his profound words of wisdom and saw His miraculous deeds pressed to bring Him to Jerusalem and announce Him as their king.  They hoped He would be the one who would deliver Israel from its oppressors, and once again restore a long awaited kingdom to their land.  Indeed, Jesus had brought a new kingdom to this earth, but it was not the kingdom that the people were hoping for.  They desired to see national freedom, but Christ had come to bring a different kind of freedom altogether.

Every time, the people pressed to take Him upon their shoulders and announce Him as their king, Jesus evaded their grasp and went away to a quiet place, or off to some other town to continue His ministry there.  Until one day, when Jesus commanded His disciples to go into town and get a certain donkey for Him so that He might ride into Jerusalem.  In fulfillment of the above prophecy in Zechariah, Jesus rode into Jerusalem with men and women, boys and girls, waving palm branches and singing specific Psalms that were reserved for the coming of the Messiah.  

Why did Jesus refuse the exaltation of the people in so many instances, and then deliberately organize a ride into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey?  It is because Jesus, the author of our salvation, was fulfilling a prophecy given nearly 600 years previous.  In the book of Daniel, the prophet receives a message from God that describes the exact day when the Messiah would present Himself in Jerusalem.  Jesus’ famous donkey ride was a fulfillment, to the day, of that peculiar prophecy, and a further declaration that He was the promised deliverer who would bring salvation to the world.

The week that followed was history’s most tragic turn of events.  The man who was hailed as a miraculous king as He entered Jerusalem, was cursed as a blasphemous criminal, and sent out of Jerusalem to his death on a Roman cross.  The Son of God was maligned and abandoned by His closest friends and betrayed with a kiss.  But none of these things deterred Him from accomplishing His mission.

You see, Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost”.  Jesus knew that He must pay the ultimate price to purchase us from the kingdom of darkness in order to bring us into the kingdom of light.  And because of His love for us, and His willingness to follow through with the greatest act of self-sacrificial love, He allowed Himself to be taken to the cross of Calvary, there to become the sacrifice for our sins.  

This Easter season, I hope you will remember what Jesus did for you because of His great love for you.  Please come celebrate with us this Easter, the death, burial and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  

Tuesday, March 13, 2018


Article: Encouragement

2 Corinthians 13:11   "Finally, brothers, rejoice! Aim for perfect harmony, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”

One of the great and necessary tasks of our day, is to encourage one another.  It is a great task, because the simple, yet profound power of encouragement is effective to build up the lives of others and ourselves.  Encouragement is a necessary task in these days when so many things seem to be so tense and uncertain, and there are so many opportunities to lose faith and hope, and to slip into a darkness of wary depression.  There is nothing that limits the power of encouragement except our willingness to give it.  God has given us the gift of encouragement as a tool to enrich and sweeten the lives of others.   So let me join in with scripture, as it encourages us to take on a lifestyle of encouragement.

The dictionary defines encouragement as “to inspire with courage, spirit or hope”.  That is to say, that when we take time to lift up someone else with an encouraging word, we are breathing into them a sweetness of life, the resolution to face challenges, and the expectation of a better day.  Surprisingly, it does not take very much to bring this kind of life-giving sweetness to someone else’s life.  It simply takes a little bit of interest.  

In our world, there are so many distractions, busy schedules, and so much focus on the negative things in life, that we seldom have anything left of ourselves to take a genuine interest in other people.  So many of us are too busy trying to survive our own lives because we have stacked them up with endless lists of tasks, obligations and cravings, that we don’t have much margin to give to the people around us and take a genuine interest in building them up.  However, if we take the time to engage one another in conversation, take the time to listen instead of answer, or find opportunities to lift one another up and point each other to a higher mark, we will not only sweeten someone else’s life but also our own.  And there is nothing wrong with reaching the end of the day, knowing that God has been able to use you to bring a little light to a dark world.

Encourage one another: thank a teacher for taking time to educate, let a hospital worker know you appreciate their efforts on behalf of the sick and dying, tell your pastor about what God is teaching you through their ministry, let a friend know you are thinking of them, lend a helping hand expecting nothing in return.  The opportunities are endless if we are looking for them.  Surely our homes, our churches, our families, and our community will be a better place for these simple acts of encouragement.   

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

A Great Man and a Great Savior!

It has been a couple weeks now, since the world lost one of its most respected and revered men of faith, Dr. Billy Graham.  His death came at age 99, following years of dwindling health.  However, a general feeling of joy, mixed with sadness, has dominated the coverage of his death and ceremonies honoring the man and his ministry.

It was noted by Graham’s son, Franklin, that Billy would most likely have felt uncomfortable with the amount of press coverage and the high visibility of his passing.  Dr. Graham would most likely have wanted to spend more time talking about his Savior, to whom he had pointed well over 210 million people in over 180 countries during his career.  I agree with that sentiment.  One day, the world will forget about you and I.  Our memory will fade, but Jesus Christ, the savior of the world, will be remembered until the end of time for who He was, and for what He did for the world.  

As a young man, Billy Graham attended a gospel meeting held by a minister named Mordecai Ham.  Even though he was a fairly well behaved youth, Billy still felt the weight of the minister’s words as he laid out the law of God, showing his audience their need for a savior in light of their offenses against God.  When an invitation to respond to God’s offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ was given, young Billy responded with heart-felt desire for God’s love and forgiveness.  A gospel message so simple and so clear rang through the heart of that young man, such that it became an undeniable call- a message to the world that he simply had to share.  

The message is simple:  mankind, though created by God with distinct beauty and dignity in all of creation, had fallen prey to the ravages of sin and become desperately needful of a Savior who could pay the just penalty for their offenses of God’s holiness.  In light of humanity’s urgent need and complete inability to earn their own salvation, God decided to enter into history and become the only satisfactory payment for sin on their behalf.  That’s the good news!  God loves you enough to pay the ultimate price for you!

The power and truth of this message still rings true to this day.  God offers forgiveness, mercy, grace and salvation through His son, Jesus.  Remember with me, words of the famous song that was the gospel call at every one of Billy Graham’s evangelistic meetings:  "Just as I am, without one plea, but that Your blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me come to thee.  O Lamb of God, I come!"

Thursday, March 1, 2018

What Profit?

“What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36

These are Jesus words, filled with thought provoking wisdom. They were spoken by a man who grew up as the son of a carpenter, in a small village. He was not rich, He didn’t even have a place of His own to lay His head. One one occasion, when asked if He was hungry, Jesus replied that His food was to do the work of His Father. Jesus was a God/Man who knew about the importance of having priorities in order.

In Matthew 19, a story is told of how a wealthy and influential young man came to Jesus to ask what he had to do to earn his entrance into heaven. He listed his resume for the Master, letting Him know that he had kept the commandments, and had been a “good person”. Jesus, returned by saying that the young man had yet to sell all of his worldly possessions, give the money to the poor, then come to be His disciple. Was that really the key to gaining entrance into heaven?

Jesus was not laying out a prescription for paradise. Rather, Jesus was getting at an issue that He knew was in the young man’s heart. The young man treasured his wealth more than the opportunity to walk closely with the Lord. When he heard the call to sacrifice it all, the young man walked away from Jesus sorrowfully. Jesus was getting at the heart of the young man’s primary issue, that of idolatry.

Martin Luther once described human beings as “idol factories”. He was right! We were created by God as active worshippers, that is to say that we are always worshipping something. We readily pour ourselves into a multitude of pursuits, and elevate our own existence above the will of God. It is the nature of our affections to be inclined toward something…anything. We were intended to love and worship God, but sin has presented many more options for our attentions.

Jesus’ words are a clear call to us today. His question is just as relevant, “What shall it profit a man if he should gain the whole world, yet lose his own soul?”. What will it gain you and I if we master our earthly existence with no regard for eternity? Jesus calls to us to come and follow Him, to acknowledge Him as Lord and receive from Him. He is the lover of our souls, and knows exactly what we need.

Big Words to a Small Man

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:10

These famously encouraging words were uttered by Jesus about himself, concerning His self-defined mission to bring truth and life to all who would believe. This truth would set them free and God would reclaim lives that had otherwise been lost. To whom did Jesus speak these words?

You probably know the children’s Sunday school song, “Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man”. It is a cute song, and so much fun to sing with little kids. They love to do the actions that tell the story of a smaller than average man who long ago found himself looking for the Messiah on a crowded street. As the story goes, this short man decided to climb a tree in order to get a better vantage point from which he could see Jesus as he walked down the street. Such was Jesus fame and popularity at this time in His ministry, that the crowds pressed in around Him and vied for His attentions. While Zacchaeus intended to look for Jesus, he soon found that Jesus was looking for Him.

Luke 19 tells us that Jesus, as He came to the tree where Zacchaeus had posted himself, He looked up and called out to the little man, “Come down right away. I must stay at your house tonight!” Can you imagine? Out of all of the crowds of people, Jesus finds Zacchaeus and invites Himself to dinner! I can only imagine that Zacchaeus might have panicked a little, but he graciously welcomed this famous Rabbi into his home.

Following supper, the effects of the Savior’s willingness to fellowship with and befriend him, became obvious. You see, as a tax collector, Zacchaeus was a Jew that was working with the Roman government to tax his fellow countrymen. Roman law permitted him to overcharge Jewish citizens and claim the extra as profit for his wages. Zacchaeus was among some of the most unliked and unappreciated people of his culture. But Jesus looked past what Zacchaeus was, and saw one who was lost. As Zacchaeus stood to boldly declare his repentance from his greed and abuse, Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Zacchaeus saw, in Jesus, a gracious willingness to forgive and love that softened the hardness of his heart. Greed was replaced by generosity, falsehood by a love of the Truth, and lostness by fellowship. Though he was unworthy, the Savior met him and reached out a saving hand to him.

Today, Jesus extends that same hand to you. Forgiveness, restoration, mercy are all yours to be found if you will but seek Him.

Every Tribe and Tongue

"After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” Revelation 7:9-10

Language sounds like music to my ears. As a musician, there is a part of my mind that hears pitch, tone, rhythm, pulse, duration, and melody in spoken language. Various languages sound like individual instruments in a great vocal symphony. Some are flowing and melodic, others forceful and percussive. Still other languages seem to work quite nicely in layers of people all exuberantly talking at the same time. All together, the languages of this world form a great symphony, bearing witness to the God that created us.

In Genesis 11, the story is told of how God confused the language of a people who were bound and determined to rebel against God. Instead of speaking one language and pursuing a life in rebellion to God’s plan, God graciously intervened by fracturing their language, causing them to stop building a great tower where they could worship the creation instead of the Creator.

Psalm 19:1-4 describes a universal language of the stars that “declares the glory of God” and the beauty of His handiwork. It tells how the whole world “hears” this testimony and no one is left out. Language is the medium of the expression of God sharing His glory with all of humanity. Elsewhere, Scripture encourages us to use language in ways that build up and edify and bless, instead of tearing down, demeaning, and destroying. The words of our mouths, expressing the thoughts of our hearts and minds, are powerful tools of help or harm.

The above text from Revelation brings a beautiful close to the Bible’s the use of language. In it, we see men and women, boys and girls, from all over the world, praising God. The author makes a special effort to describe to us that there will be believers from every nation, from each of their tribes, and each of their language groups. They call out and sing of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who washes away the sins of the world. What a beautiful sound that will be!

The Sunday-Monday Gap

Let’s admit it, most of us live for the weekend. We get a sense of relief when we get to the end of a work week, and when the weekend arrives we like to have fun, relax, go to church, go fishing, or whatever… it’s the weekend! It’s nice to get a break from the daily routine of the work week, but it’s just about as jarring to jump back into the routine on Monday morning.

If you are like most people, there is a sense that there is a rather large gap between Sunday and Monday. On Sunday, many people go to church to worship, and take some time throughout the day to relax and rest in preparation for the coming work week. When Monday comes around, we have a perhaps unspoken sense that we are now going back to “reality” or back to “the real world”. The idea of worshiping God is reserved for Sundays, and on Mondays we go back to the grind.

What if God desired to walk with us throughout the entire week, and show us His glory in the every day circumstances of the work week? What if God could be worshiped in every act, every transaction, every interaction we have with others? May I suggest that is exactly God’s desire for our lives.

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” For the believer, his or her employer might be a bank or a grocery store or a school, but ultimately their boss is Jesus! When we work with integrity and devotion to the task at hand, we honor God and glorify Him in our bodies!

God desires to reveal Himself and guide us along the path of our lives on a daily basis. Our attitudes toward work and the workplace affect our relationships to our spouse, our kids, our community, and even our church families. May God challenge us to do our work for Him, and allow us to see His glory in us!