Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

Follow me!

*All Bible quotes are ESV

The motto of the US Infantry is “Follow Me.”  From day one, infantry soldiers are taught to lead. The most effective leaders “lead from the front,” which means leading by personal example. Audie Leon Murphy was a popular Hollywood actor in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but he was a skinny, baby-faced, five-foot five-inch teenager from Texas when he joined the US Army in 1942. No one could have imagined that this lad would become his country’s most decorated service member of World War II. Time and again, Murphy proved himself fearless under fire. By October 1944, he was a highly decorated combat infantryman fighting in the European campaign. Murphy was given a battle commission to second lieutenant in the same month.

On January 26, 1945 Murphy’s conspicuous bravery would earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH). Murphy knew about leading from the front. An excerpt from his MOH citation reads as follows:

2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw.

Audie Murphy was a selfless, sacrificial leader who always led from the front.  Time and again he put his life on line for his friends and the men he led. Although wounded multiple times, Murphy miraculously survived the war. 

Jesus was the ultimate example of selfless sacrifice and leading from the front. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls his disciples for the first time with the words “follow me.” Immediately they dropped what they were doing and followed him. The call to follow Jesus means now, not later. If you hear him calling, don’t resist.

In Luke 18, a rich young man who had always tried to live a righteous life asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds in verse 22, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young man went away very sad, because he was very wealthy.

Jesus restored the sight of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52.  Mark tells us that Bartimaeus, once his vision is restored, “followed him (Jesus) on the way.

Mark 9:35 tells us that when Jesus observed his disciples arguing about their personal status in the group of disciples, Jesus told them ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

In John 13, on the night of the Passover feast just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion, he displays a remarkable act of servitude by washing his disciples’ feet. When he is finished, he says to them in verses 14-15, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Jesus calls us to a sacrificial life, placing others before ourselves.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:23

Most important of all, Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven to be born of the Virgin Mary and lived as a man among us, understanding our weaknesses and struggles, so that he could give his life to save us all from our sins and death.

“Since Adam’s sin, mankind had been separated from God, but through Christ’s sacrifice we have been reconciled to the Lord. Jesus is ’the Lamb of God,’—the final and permanent sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and under God’s New Covenant he is now the one mediator through whom we can come to God, for God will accept and forgive everyone who professes by word and life their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and depends upon his death as the sacrifice for their personal salvation.” (Source: Bibleforce.net)

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” John Stott

Guard your heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus

“When a man’s heart is right with God the mysterious utterances of the Bible are spirit and life to him. Spiritual truth is discernible only to a pure heart, not to a keen intellect. It is not a question of profundity of intellect, but of purity of heart.”  Oswald Chambers

The word “heart”, as used in the Old Testament, is frequently translated from the Hebrew “לב (sounds like “leb”). It describes a person’s inner being—specifically their will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It can also refer to moral character and determination. The Hebrew people of Biblical times believed the heart was a body’s place of knowledge, memory and thought. From a holistic viewpoint, the Hebrews saw the heart as the predominant force behind a person’s character, decisions, words and deeds.

The word “heart” as used in the Greek New Testament is καρδία” (sounds like “cardia”). It is the root of the modern English “cardiac.” Like the Hebrew word for “heart,” καρδία has multiple interpretations. It represents the origin of one’s spiritual life and includes emotions. thoughts and one’s personal will. It also describes the center of one’s longings, desires and feelings.

In Roman Catholicism, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion recalls Jesus’ infinite love for all mankind. Saint Matthew reminds us that we are to return Jesus’ love for us.  In Matthew 22:37-38(a), Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Christian writer Witness Lee was born to a Christian family in North China in 1905. In his book The Economy of God, which was published in 1968, Lee examines the role of the heart in a Christian’s life. He says:

“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” He continues, “In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.”

There are many worldly forces competing for our hearts. The Bible is full of examples and warnings about idols, false prophets and false teachers.  We find these deceivers all around us today. Idols manifest themselves in the forms of power, wealth, fame, celebrity, self-indulgence and the like—things we choose to worship in place of God. False prophets sometimes appear in the form of politicians, governments, religious leaders and, more recently, some social media outlets. They plant seeds of fears and confusion with words running contrary to the teaching of Christ. 18th century Welsh theologian Matthew Henry’s comprehensive Bible commentary has much to say on false prophets and teachers. For example:

“Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times.”  Commentary on Matthew 24

Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on the Law (instruction) of the Lord. If your heart is fixed on the Word of God, you are not likely to go astray. The Word of God is “at work” in believers who hear and meditate on it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God helps us to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). The working of the Word of God is evident in true believers.  My mom spent the last few months of her life in a dementia facility.  One of the residents was a believer who was probably close to 90 years old. This blessed man, overcome by Alzheimer’s Disease, daily recited the Roman Catholic Missal for hours on end. Even in his diminished state, the Word of God was at work in this old Saint’s heart.

The Word of God helps us avoid the temptations of idolatry and false prophets.  As Corinthians 10:13 tells us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)

So how can Christians respond to temptations that tear at their hearts? Naturally, Jesus provides the answer.  In Matthew 4:1-11, we find the story of Jesus’s temptation by Satan. In this passage, Jesus is tempted (tested) in the wilderness and responds with the Word of God, reciting scripture to Satan:

            Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

            You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Like a sword, the Word can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes—defensive as when Jesus responds to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, and offensive as when we see the triumphant Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, in Revelation 1:17-18, where he proclaims, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Study the Holy Scriptures and receive the Word of God!

Today, Jesus calls to each of us, “Come, leave behind your life of sin and sorrow. Come to the cross, find forgiveness for your sins, and join me in resurrection victory. Come, be My disciple. Come and know the joy of a loving Father. Come, before it is too late.” –Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker emeritus of the Lutheran Hour.

…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. –1 Timothy 1:12(b)-14

What do you believe?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him; it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.

—C.S. Lewis

I’m a member of a parish of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Each week during Sunday worship we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, a widely accepted collective statement of faith in the triune God. I’ve been reciting the creed for so many years that now it is memorized and literally flows effortlessly out of my mouth each Sunday.

I enjoy communal prayers, but with this form of prayer comes a risk—the words become so familiar they can lose personal meaning. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.”

This begs the question, “What does it mean to believe something?” I’ve provided two definitions above.  I prefer the second one. This leads to another question, “What is the difference in believing something and believing in something.”  Surely Satan believes in God, as he has seen God face to face.

  “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19 (NIV)

With all this in mind, I’d like to challenge each reader who calls him- or herself a Christian to examine your beliefs in the coming year. Do you believe God? If so, what exactly do you believe and what is the source of your beliefs? Let me preface the remaining discussion by confessing that I have many more questions on this subject than answers.   

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2017 indicated that a record few Americans (24%) believe the Bible is the literal word of God (Gallup poll). A 2020 Barna Group survey published by the American Bible Society indicated that “Mainline Protestant denominations had the largest proportion of unchurched adherents (50%) with one in every two members being unchurched, followed by 46% of Catholics, 37% of Evangelicals, and 36% of Historically Black Protestants.” (Barna Group Survey).  

Where do you stand on this?  If you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you read it frequently? If you answered “no,” why not? How well versed are you in the scriptures?  If the Bible isn’t the source of your Christian beliefs, what is?  If you profess to be a Christian and don’t regularly attend church, why don’t you?

The bottom line of my thought process can be summed up like this: “If you can’t articulate what you believe, how can you live what you believe?”  In the coming year, I challenge each reader to answer the following questions for themselves. Take time to research the scriptures and other authoritative sources as you formulate your answers.  Try to discuss “why” or “why not” in each of your answers.

  1. Do you “believe” God or do you “believe in” God?
  2. Do you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God or just a book of wisdom?
  3. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What does it mean to fear the Lord?
  4. Do you believe the creation story in Genesis 1 is literal or figurative?
  5. Is Jesus the son of God or simply a great moral teacher?
  6. Do you believe in the virgin birth?
  7. What is sin and what is salvation?
  8. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?
  9. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
  10. Is Jesus the only pathway to God, as He said, or are there other paths?

Many people claim we’re presently living in a “post-Christian” era today, where Western cultures are increasingly embracing secularism and turning their backs on their original Judeo-Christian roots. More and more, we see Christians accused of being racists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes and a host of other slurs because of their beliefs. This is occurring both before the law, in the media, and in the court of public opinion. When your faith is eventually questioned by a non-Christian, as it inevitably will be, will you be prepared to articulate what you believe or will you silently submit to their accusations?

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

—Psalm 34:4-8 (NIV)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. —1 Timothy 4:13-16 (NIV)

Do not let your hearts be troubled

Jesus Watches Mary of Bethany Weeping at His Tomb

In John 14, Jesus’ disciples are troubled by the Lord’s words and behavior.  In John 13, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them that one who wishes to be a leader must be the servant of all.  He informs them that he is going away to a place where they cannot follow, foreshadowing his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Jesus tells them that one of the disciples will betray him. Finally, he tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times. By this time, all the disciples are pretty shaken.  But next Jesus reassures and comforts them saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1) *.  He then goes on to explain that He is going away to prepare a place for them in heaven.

Such comforting words are needed today. The entire country is politically supercharged over the upcoming election.  Harsh words are spoken on both sizes of the aisle. Violent protests fill the streets of many major cities nightly. I continually hear people from the left, right, and middle expressing fears and worries over the future of America. This shouldn’t be a concern for Christians.

Here’s a news flash. The upcoming election has already been decided. The future of America has already been decided. Despite the hate and chaos, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as he wills it. The Father’s plan for Christ followers is the same as Jesus plan for His disciples.  He is preparing a place for Christians in Heaven. This plan was established before the Earth was created. It may seem to sometimes that God is moving slowly, but he isn’t.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter:8-9

Time is a perception that humans use to help wrap their minds around what occurs in life, but time is meaningless to God.  We see this clearly in Exodus 3:14, when God tells Moses that God’s name is “I am.”  We see this in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Mike Bennett, who writes for the Christian website Life, Hope and Truth, explains it like this:

The Bible tells us God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). In other words, God’s plans are so sure that it is as if they had already happened. So, when the One who became Jesus Christ volunteered to die for our sins from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), it was as if He had already been slain. Jesus also described other things that were planned “from the foundation of the world,” and they are just as sure. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34).

“My spirit shakes with terror. How long God, how long? from Psalm 6

Rest assured that God is in control and nothing can change that. No matter what appears to be happening, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as He conceived it before creation. For many this is a difficult concept to grasp. Jesus is the key to God’s plan.  This is stated plainly in John 1:1-5, where John describes Jesus like this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

If you are a Christian and find yourself fretting over the coming election or other events occurring in the nation, I encourage you to read (or reread) the Gospel of John.  I guarantee you will find great comfort in its words.  Even if you are not a Christ follower, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John and carefully consider its words, for it is a guide to eternity.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” –John 6:68.

* All Bible passages are NIV.

The Joy of the Holy Spirit

christmas-2017

This is the month, and this the happy morn, Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King, Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born, Our great redemption from above did bring; For so the holy sages once did sing, That he our deadly forfeit should release, And with his Father work us a perpetual peace. —John Milton, from his poem ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’

The word Joy is a much-overused in secular communications around Christmas time.  One sees the word frequently on secular Christmas tree ornaments, gift wrapping paper, greeting cards and the like. Joy is an extremely important word for Christians; it appears frequently in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, along with love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (NIV).

According to one Jesuit explanation of this, a fruit of the Holy Spirit is “an observable behavior in people who have allowed the grace of the Holy Spirit to be effective in them.”  With this interpretation, two things become clear.  First, the fruits of the Holy Spirit do not appear automatically once a person accepts Christ as his or her Savior.  To reap the fruits, we must surrender our right to ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.  Secondly, Christian joy is not the same as happiness.  Christian joy can be experienced in the midst of pain and sadness. In fact, James 1:2-3 (NIV) tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

In Philippians 4:4, the Apostle Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He penned this epistle from prison.   Some people confuse joy with happiness.  They are not the same.  Christian joy comes from within, while happiness stems from external sources.  I’m happy when my wife bakes her famous apple pie.  I’m joyful in the knowledge that Christ is my Savior. I can savor Christian joy even in difficult times, just like Paul writing words of encouragement from prison.

I recently visited a friend who is quickly approaching death. He’s the godfather of my children and a friend of over 35 years. While it was sad knowing I probably won’t see him again in this life, it was also joyful to know that he is secure in his salvation through Jesus Christ and we will see each other again in God’s eternal kingdom.  

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. —Luke 2: 10-11

My prayer for you is that you will allow the joy of the Holy Spirit to work in your life. May your heart be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus Christ during this Christmas Season and in the coming New Year!

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart. —Christina Rossetti from her poem ‘In the bleak midwinter’

 

 

Is your God this big?

HubbelHubble Space Telescope Image

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  —Psalms 19:1*

During my 24-year U.S. Army career I deployed to the Middle East and the horn of Africa for extended stays.  Much of my time there was spent in very remote areas of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Somalia.  While I can’t say I enjoyed my time in these places, the deployments were great learning experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

One thing that I did enjoy, however, was the nighttime sky in the desert west of Kuwait City and in the plush south Jubba River valley of Somalia.  With no man-made light to interfere with my vision, I could look upward and literally see billions of stars.  God has created an unfathomable universe that defies human description. As the Psalmist says, truly the heavens declare the glory of God. 

My God can alter this vast universe in the blink of an eye. Is your God this big?

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them and they will be changed.
But you remain the same
 and your years will never end.  —Psalm 102:25-27

The King James Bible of 1611 paints an image of God reflecting the social order of Jacobean England—a king sitting on a throne, surrounded by throngs of courtiers. Many Christians have grown up with this image of God. God truly is our king; however, he is much, much more. English clergyman and Bible scholar J.B. Phillips is probably best known for his epic book, “Your God is Too Small.” Published in 1952, he might have just as easily called it, “Your Mind is Too Small.”  Phillips encourages us to set aside the limits human reason places on God and instead embrace Him as the omnipotent, omnipresent creator of the universe. Rather than having God conform to a man-made image of Him, which Phillips calls “God in a box,” Phillips challenges us to open our minds and embrace God’s reality—the creator of the universe, who is unconstrained by our concepts of time, speed, distance and space.

When I consider the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?—Psalm 8:3-4

Perhaps what’s most amazing about my God is that the creator of the limitless universe is also the God who cares for you and for me as individuals.  As our father and creator, God knows our thoughts, our fears, our weaknesses and our individual needs. He wants to care for us.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! —1 John 3:1

The glory of God can shine through us as individuals when we are in a right relationship with Him, but because of mankind’s fallen state, we cannot even look God in the face (Exodus 33:20). Therefore, our creator sent us a savior, His only begotten son Jesus Christ, who willingly set aside his heavenly glory and took on human form, being born of a virgin, for the express purpose of dying on the cross for your sins and mine. By his death and resurrection, we can be restored to a right relationship as children of God.

But the cross wasn’t the end, it was the beginning.  Through His glorious resurrection from the dead, Christ banished death and opened the gateway to eternal life for all who put their faith in Him as savior. There is nothing we can do by ourselves to be restored to a right relationship with God; it is a gift that must be accepted. Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and eternal life freely to those who confess their sins and trust in Him. Do you want to trust Jesus?  Click the link to find out how. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8qWlN7c3lQ

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. —1 John 1:9.     

*All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version.

Messy Christianity

Soup Kitchen

Many Christians love their big, opulent church buildings. They can be quite impressive, especially older ones that are massive relics of past centuries. Standing inside a pristine, beautifully ornamented Gothic cathedral can certainly give one a sense of awe. They’re a wonderful place in which to worship God.

The entire world was recently shaken by images of the beloved Notre Dame Cathedral on fire in Paris. Notre Dame is now closed for who knows how long, as the French government and people begin the long process of rebuilding. The church building is a mess.

Christianity is a messy business—in many ways messier than the scorched interior of Notre Dame.  In John 14:12, Jesus tells us, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing.”  Acts 10:38 tells us Jesus “went around going good.” As Christ’s disciples, we are to follow his example of doing good. Good works are not a condition for salvation. Salvation is a free gift for those who put their faith in Christ. But as the Book of James tells us, works are a manifestation of Christ’s love that is in those who put their faith in Him. 

We are to follow Christ’s example.  Matthew 9:35-38 says:

“Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.  Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

Jesus is the Lord of the harvest. The harvest he is speaking about has many faces including the sick and suffering, people in trouble, those who don’t know Christ and many others. They all need caring, compassionate Christ-believers who care about the wandering sheep.

Unfortunately, many Christians are too comfortable in the places where they currently are in their faith journey; perhaps they attend church regularly, give money to the church; and participate in church social events. They enjoy this and aren’t eager for change. People in this condition can find it difficult to reach out to the sheep of Jesus’ flock. In his video series on the Good Samaritan, Christian author Rev. John Ortberg likens this to someone sitting on a comfortable bench in a beautiful park—a place one doesn’t want to move from.

Christians who find themselves in such a comfortable condition today but recognize the need for change can rise from their bench in small steps.  It might mean spending a weekend working on a church project with a group of volunteers, inviting a new family on the block over for dinner, visiting a church member in a hospital or nursing home, or leading a Bible study. Taking such baby steps isn’t very messy, but it helps prepare one for Christ’s messy work.

Messy Christianity requires getting one’s hands dirty in both the figurative and literal sense. It’s found in places like soup kitchens and homeless shelters, getting involved in helping someone  who is being physically or mentally abused, inviting someone on the down and out into your home for awhile, giving someone in need a loan with no expectation of being repaid, or traveling to distant places to perform mission work such as flood or hurricane relief. It often requires taking personal risks and/or experiencing considerable discomfort.

Early Christians in Rome were noted for fearlessly caring for the sick and diseased. Many non-Christian Romans admired the Christians’ selfless acts. The Western Emperor Constantine the Great decriminalized Christianity in 313 AD by issuing the Edict of Milan.  Ten years later Christianity became the official religion of Rome. This occurred through a different kind of revolution marked not by violence and warfare, but by countless acts of Christian love, charity and sacrifice.

The Rev. Ken R. Klaus, Pastor Emeritus of the Lutheran Hour said, “All too often the job of reaching others is left to others. That can be unfortunate. After all, there are times when you may be the best person to reach someone who is lost or wandering.” You don’t have to be an evangelist or great orator to succeed either.  All you need do is open the door for the Holy Spirit to begin His work in another person’s life. Share your joy!”

If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the calm waters just inside the harbor, full of joy, but always tied to the dock. You have to get out past the harbor into the great depths of God, and begin to know things for yourself. –Oswald Chambers

*Note: all Bible references are NIV.

The Seven Penitential Psalms

 

Saint Peter in Penitence by El Greco

St. Peter in Penitence, El Greco, (ca. 1580)

We are currently celebrating the church season of Lent, a 40-day period before Easter when Christians reflect upon the passion and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who was crucified and died as atonement for our sins, setting believers free from sin and death. Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead and the promise of eternal life for His believers.  Penitence, a solemn contemplation of one’s sins and request for God’s forgiveness, is foundational to Lent.

One Lenten discipline that I recommend is the prayerful reading of the Seven Penitential Psalms—Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. These psalms (prayers) are generally attributed to David.  Psalm 51 is probably the most widely read of the seven. In Anglican and Catholic traditions, it is often recited by congregations on Ash Wednesday and at other times during the Lenten season.

Christian tradition suggests several possible reasons behind the writing of these psalms. Probably the most widely accepted explanation is they were King David’s prayers of repentance for his sins against Uriah and Uriah’s beautiful wife Bathsheba. David’s sinful lust for Bathsheba drove him to conspire to have Uriah killed in battle. With Uriah out of the way, David took Bathsheba for his wife.  She conceived and bore a baby son, but the child died shortly after birth.  Recalling the words of condemnation delivered to him by the prophet Nathan regarding David’s sin with Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12: 4-7), David believed the baby’s death was God’s punishment for his transgressions. Nathan said to David:

“Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! (NIV)

Another Christian tradition associate’s the Seven Penitential Psalms with the Seven Deadly Sins. We first encounter the Seven Deadly Sins in the writings of Pope Gregory I around the year 600.  The sins are pride, greed, lust, wrath, gluttony, envy, and sloth.

The writings of  French Roman Catholic theologian Cardinal Pierre d’Ailly (1351-1420) associates certain spiritual virtues with the Seven Penitential Psalms: Psalm 6, fear of punishment; Psalm32, sorrow and confession for sin; Psalm 38, hope;  Psalm 51, love of purity and mercy; Psalm102, longing for heaven, Psalm 130, distrust of one’s own strength and hope for mercy; and Psalm 143: joy.

During this year’s season of Lent, I’ve committed to prayerfully reading the Seven Penitential Psalms daily as part of my morning devotion.  It has been a deep spiritual experience, one that I plan to make part of my future Lenten discipline.  I encourage readers to give this a try.  You can find the Seven Penitential Psalms online at the following URL:

http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/seven-penitential-psalms-songs-of-suffering-servant.cfm

My Superhero

Superheroes

Superheroes are all the rage these days.  They’re winning at the box office with blockbuster movies like “Wonder Woman,” “Black Panther”  “Aquaman” and yet another new episode in the Spiderman series.  Older superheroes like Superman and Batman remain tremendously popular too.

With Christmas approaching, the aisles of toy stores and toy departments are lined with superhero kitsch, mainly over-hyped, over-priced superhero-themed stuff that will make the kiddies giggle on Christmas morning and eventually be tossed into a corner with a dozen similar forgotten toys.  Superhero figures also fill the pages of comic books; some of these books are sold for incredible amounts of money—literally worth their weight in gold.

Many adults and kids alike are attracted to these imaginary superheroes, yet they pay little attention to a real superheroes in their midst.  This superhero is powerful.   He is fearless and always defeats his many enemies.  He never makes mistakes. He can’t be outsmarted. He never tells a lie. He is a clear thinker and never loses his cool. Millions of people have purchased figurines of the real superhero.

So far the real superhero sounds about the same as the imaginary ones doesn’t he?  However, there are really many differences between my superhero and the imaginary ones.

Unlike the imaginary superheroes, my superhero isn’t handsome.  According to one writer, there’s nothing about his appearance one would find particularly attractive.  The same writer described my superhero as a sad man. He doesn’t sound very exciting or charismatic does he?   

My superhero did the unthinkable.  He surrendered to the enemy!  Only a short time after his surrender he was violently put to death and buried in a tomb.  End of story?  Not quite!

My superhero has performed many miracles. He turned plain water into wine and controls all of nature. He gives sight to the blind and makes the lame walk again.  He can control the wind and the sea, calming storms and raging waves. He can walk on water. 

Headline:  Man surrenders himself in exchange for hostages.  Billions saved!

Yes, my superhero surrendered to the enemy, but it was done voluntarily. He freely sacrificed himself to free billions of hostages.  He was put to death by the enemy, but he rose from the dead after three days and now lives forever.  He has already raised men from the dead and will raise many more in the future. 

My superhero doesn’t wear a mask, he wears a golden crown.  He has been called the King of Kings, Lord of Lords, and the Prince of Peace. He is Immanuel—God with us, fully man and fully God! His name is Jesus. During this period of Advent Christians around the world reflect on the promised return of their Savior.  The book of Revelation describes him like this:

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.  –Revelation 19:11-13 (NIV)

The first chapter of the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus, the “Word of God” is the author of all creation.  All things were made by Him: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  –John 1:1-5 (NIV)

Darkness has never overcome my superhero and it never will.  He cannot be defeated.  Jesus sacrifice of himself defeated sin and death forever.  Jesus offers redemption freely to those who claim him as savior. His story is told in this passage of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,

the only-begotten Son of God,

eternally begotten of the Father,

God from God, Light from Light,

true God from true God,

begotten, not made,

of one Being with the Father;

through Him all things were made.

 For us and for our salvation He came down from heaven,

was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,

and was made man.

 For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;

he suffered death and was buried.

 On the third day He rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;

He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.

 He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,

and his kingdom will have no end.

Now that’s what a real Superhero looks like!

…to him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.  –Revelation 1: 5b-6 (NIV)

Everyone Needs a Savior

Jesus on Cross

Watching the evening news these days can be seriously disturbing.  It seems like every day there’s a new name or two on the list of politicians, Hollywood celebrities and officers of large corporations accused of sexual misbehavior of one type or another.  It sometimes seems like it will never end.

It’s easy to become angry at these individuals—to wag an accusatory finger in their direction. If the truth be told, however, few of us would survive intact after having our lives laid bare before the court of public opinion. Virtually everyone has something in their past or present that they wouldn’t want exposed to public scrutiny, or even to a spouse or other loved one.

While some of us escape public scrutiny of our lives, it’s a sobering thought to know that everything we do is seen by God. 

We are only what we are in the dark; all the rest is reputation. What God looks at is what we are in the dark—the imaginations of our minds; the thoughts of our heart; the habits of our bodies; these are the things that mark us in God’s sight. Oswald Chambers

The Apostle Paul tells us, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, ESV).  This begs the question, “Then who can be saved?”  It’s important to understand Romans 3:23 in context, because it answers this worried question.  Taken in context, we see:

… there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forth as propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith.   Romans 3:22b-25a

An act of propitiation is a redeeming sacrifice that atones for sin.  In the Bible, this term always refers to an act of God, not a sacrifice offered by man to God. 

In a just a few days we will celebrate the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ.  While we are taking joy in the celebration of the Lord’s birth, we must not forget that he was born for only one purpose—to redeem us from our sins and return us to a natural relationship with God. This return to the natural order as God originally planned it was made possible by Christ’s death on the cross and his resurrection from the dead. This redemption cannot be earned.  It is offered as a free gift to all that place their faith in Jesus as savior.  Through Him we are made blameless before God.

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy,  to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.  Jude 1:24-25

May God bless and keep us all during the coming Christmas season and New Year!