Monday, April 28, 2014

Reassurance 4/28/2014 (rp)

"These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." 1 John 5:13

It is very human to doubt things about which we have no specific and tangible evidence.  Those who believe are no exception.  Upon hearing the claims of his fellow apostles about Jesus' post resurrection visit to them, Thomas famously said, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe,” John 20:25.  Thomas had walked with Jesus, talked with Jesus, was present when Lazarus was called to life from the dead and heard Jesus say that he would return from death, yet even he doubted.  Jesus did indeed return and offered Thomas the opportunity to extract whatever proof he needed.

Beloved, one of the most amazing things about God is His provision of free will to humanity.  This means that we have the ability to choose to believe or choose not to believe.  We can accept God or we can reject Him.  No one has been compelled to believe.  There were some who were born for God's service but departed from Him such as Samson and Saul and others from common walks of life or even enemy status who became integral to the growth and spread of Christianity such as the apostles (including Paul).  The point is that if you, of your own free will, choose to believe in and follow Christ, be 100% committed and assured.  It is only when we fully embrace him that we can truly experience his love and accomplish his work.

Jesus told Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed,” John 20:29.  Have faith.



Monday, April 21, 2014

The Greatest Story Ever Told 4/21/2014 (rp)

"Why do you seek the living One among the dead? "He is not here, but He has risen." Luke 24:5-6

The greatest story ever told began before time. It began when God the Son made the decision to save a creature that had not yet been created. But that was not the whole story.

The greatest story ever told continued after God blew life into a mound of dirt and
man was created. Man shunned paradise and committed sin. God then assured him that a Savior would one day be sent. But that was not the whole story.

The greatest story ever told continued to build when a young virgin gave birth to the human incarnation of the Creator. The birth was announced by the heavenly host and communicated to the common man. Even the cosmos shared in the great event in the embodiment of a star that lead wise men from the east to the newly born King. But that was not the whole story.

The greatest story ever told took a tragic turn when after years of preaching, teaching, healing and forgiving sin, those whom the Savior came to save turned on him and took the life he willingly gave for us. Though he was innocent, he was brutalized and hung on a cross, open to public shame. It was there, that even God separated from him and he died a terrible death. But that was not the whole story.

Beloved, the greatest truth that ever was culminated when the Savior who died on behalf of all men took up his life again. He rose! He greeted his friends and disciples! He was seen by more than 500 people! And he charged them all to carry the greatest truth ever told forward and share it with all who would ever live. That is the whole story.

On Friday we cried. Today, we rejoice!!



Friday, April 18, 2014

Which One Was My Candle? - A Good Friday Remembrance 4/18/2014

"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice saying, 'Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?' that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"  Matthew 27:46

Beloved, despite its sad origin, happy Good Friday!  I'd like to share with you an experience I had several years ago on this date that still resonates today.  I suspect we do not meditate on the importance of Good Friday very much these days as we go about our busy lives, but it is my hope that sharing this experience will cause us to reflect, even for a moment, on one of the most important days in all Christendom.


I'd like to share with you one of the most moving experiences of my life. Interestingly enough, it happened quite unexpectedly and even at this writing, some 12 hours later, I'm still a bit numb.

Last night, our youth minister, Chris Hughes, and several of the congregation's young people put together a Good Friday Service. Truth be told, I had never heard of such a thing. But Chris is kind of a spunky guy who has a great love for the Lord and is always wanting to try something new (you know how youth ministers are).

The service began with each person being required to light a candle in the foyer before entering the sanctuary. Once inside, Chris informed those who had gathered about what the service would consist of in pretty specific detail. He warned that it would be a heavy service and that it was not designed to bring joy, but to put us in the place of a disciple during the time of the trial, scourging and crucifixion. The service was to be lit primarily by candle, leaving participants mostly in the dark. I made note that he said that at the conclusion of the service, anyone who had the need or desire to stay could have all the time they needed. Little did I know that I would be the last to leave his seat.

Billed as a multi-sensory experience, the service began with a video montage, consisting primarily of clips from the film, "The Passion." If you've ever seen the movie, you know how much it can move you around emotionally. It started right there for me. It went downhill from there.

A chorus made up of the youth, Chris and the Horn family sang a beautiful song that seemed to both frame and echo the emotional content of the video's last scene; Mary was holding the battered and bleeding corpse of her dead son as the wind whipped her hair and tears cascaded down her face.

There then came a very well done dramatic presentation written by Megan Schwartz that represented the anger, despondency and confusion felt by Christ's apostles immediately after his death. By this point, I was, as the saying goes, all in. I was no longer aware of sitting in the third pew in a business suit, fulfilling my obligation to the members of our congregation by being present to support Chris and his efforts. I was there. 2000 years ago. I was there. It was happening to me. It was as if I had just witnessed the crucifixion of God's son whom I personally knew and had followed for years. It is difficult to explain...and it got worse.

The next portion of the service involved a reading of the account of Christ's ordeal from his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane to the time he hung his head and died. Chris and the kids took turns reading the account. Of course these are passages that we've read dozens or even hundreds of times. I was struck, despite my familiarity with the words, by how they hung in the air, rang in my ears and drilled down to my soul. The words seemed to have come to literal life. Even this was tremendously amplified by the fact that at every juncture in the scripture that an injustice was done or a betrayal committed, a candle on stage was blown out. It was painful to watch and I must admit that my eyes were either closed or looking at my hands the majority of the time. Hearing those words, picturing those images, feeling the weight of what Jesus went through and why, examining my own life and it's place in the scheme of why such a sacrifice was necessary, and watching Samantha Hearn step forward and blow those candles out at juncture after juncture was more than I could stand.

I wondered which candle would have been mine.

By the time the next to last candle had been blown out, I was barely coherent. Chris had earlier explained that when the last candle was blown out, the candle representing Jesus' life, the service would be over. After hearing the words of the soldier's spear piercing Jesus' side, only to find him already dead reverently and somberly read, Samantha approached the last light in the room, which poetically and ironically enough was placed on the altar, and disappeared with it behind the table. For a moment there was a glow that cast shadows...

...and then it was gone.

The sanctuary had fallen into the darkness reminiscent of the darkness that fell on that day 2000 years ago at Golgotha between noon and three.

Chris' voice intoned, "As you leave, note that the only light left is that from the candles you lit in the foyer before you came in. The only light left is the light in you."

I don't know how long I sat there.

I don't know how long I sat there suffering under the weight of it all. There were so many thoughts running through my head. There were so many emotions running through my soul. There was an overwhelming sense of sadness, grief, blame and responsibility. It felt as though I had just experienced a very real personal tragedy. I had. There is one thing I know for sure however; I wanted to go and get that candle back more than I've wanted to do anything in a very long time. But I knew I couldn't. No one could. Not even God would.

When I was able to gather myself (somewhat), I found Chris, grabbed him, held him and thanked him with every word I could muster, which admittedly were very few. I told him how I wanted to go and get that candle and it was about there that I lost it again. He assured me that it would be better Sunday. Knowing he was right, I reluctantly released him, turned, walked past a singing Christiana Horn, left the sanctuary, grabbed my daughter Torri and walked out of the building. I can only hope that the many members who all seemed to be lingering in the foyer didn't think me rude for not staying and chatting. For the first time in a long time, the preacher didn't have the words.



Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Rosemita Revisited 4/9/2014


Back in February, I wrote here about my experiences on a Haitian mission in which I was privileged to participate.  It gives me no small amount of pleasure to share with you that an edited version of that article has been picked up by the Christian Chronicle, an internationally distributed publication for the churches of Christ.

Here is the link:

I hope you enjoy the article.



Monday, April 7, 2014

Doing Right While Being Done Wrong 4/7/2014 (rp)

"But Jesus said to him, 'Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?'  When those who were around Him saw what was going to happen, they said, 'Lord, shall we strike with the sword?'  And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear.  But Jesus answered and said, 'Stop! No more of this.' And He touched his ear and healed him." Luke 22:48-51

Almost without fail, our natural reaction to being offended or wronged is to retaliate. It is practically an automatic response.  The fact is that many parents, Christians among them, teach their children from the earliest age to hit back if someone hits them first, rather than to "turn the other cheek."  This and other teaching helps establish how we handle conflict as adults.

This said, it is not suggested that we should refrain from teaching our children to avoid conflict and/or defend themselves nor that we should not do similarly.  Offered for your consideration, however, is the example of Jesus.  He was under near constant scrutiny, threat, persecution and intent to harm once he began his ministry in earnest.  Despite this, he never deviated from his mission to seek and save you and me.  Even as he was betrayed and accosted by soldiers with clubs and swords, he still advocated for peace and would see no one harmed despite what he faced.

Beloved, let us always think twice about how we react.  Let us remember the Christianity that we claim, the God that we serve, the Son who saves us and all of the thinking and behavior that goes with it.  Let us also consider the relative smallness of the things that cause us injury or offense, yet how easily and quickly we respond.  It is easy to talk the Christian talk but quite another thing to walk the Christian walk.  And though we may suffer in the name of the Lord personally, great good can come of it.  Peter wrote, "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed.  Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened" 1 Pet 4:14.  He further states, "So then, those who suffer according to God's will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good" 1 Pet 4:19.  This is what Jesus did.



Friday, April 4, 2014

Case Dismissed 4/4/2014

"In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace" Ephesians 1:7

Whether in television, movies or the news, we have all seen guilty criminals standing before a judge receiving a just sentence commensurate with their crimes.  We have seen people condemned to prison for years, for life and even the death penalty.  I can imagine that there are some who, depending on the crime, look upon them with contempt and think, "They got what they deserve."

Now put yourself in the place of that criminal who stands in front of a judge to receive sentencing.  Now imagine that judge to be God.  And know in your heart that you are guilty as and of sin.  The ultimate sentence awaits you as you stand with fear and trembling.

Now imagine Jesus standing beside you as your attorney while Satan, representing your victims, those who witnessed your sins and his own interests, continues to pile on charge after charge.  Imagine Jesus requesting a sidebar with God.  You overhear him say, "I've already served his/her sentence and you have agreed to free all who accepted my sacrificial serving.  He/She has."  Then imagine God pounding a mighty gavel of fire, uttering the words, "Case dismissed."  Lastly, imagine Satan infuriated as he calls in the next accused.

Beloved, a court case comparison is neither new or unique, but it makes the point well.  A verdict of "case dismissed" is the essence and effect of grace and mercy.  The Scriptures tell us, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;  not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" Ephesians 2:8-9.  And mercy is most certainly the withholding of due punishment and consequence.  We all deserve the death penalty.  But through Christ, we are made free.

We all want justice, particularly if we are victims.  But let us always remember that when we sin, however insignificant or confined it may be, we victimize someone else.  And in those situations we all would much rather have grace and mercy than justice.



Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Reassurance for the Tired and Afraid 4/2/2014

"Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, 'So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your [a]life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.' And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, 'It is enough; now, O Lord, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.'  1 Kings 19:2-4

Have you ever done all that you think you can to lead a righteous life while doing the work of the Lord only to feel like you have accomplished nothing and still experience fear at the hands of your enemies?  This was Elijah's problem.

Elijah had just famously taken on 450 prophets of the god Baal in an epic "whose God is real" showdown and prevailed.  In so doing, Yahweh was proven to be alive, real and responsive and powerful.  This resulted in the demise of the false god's prophets and the turning of people's previously corrupt hearts.

Of course the person who introduced the worship of Baal and therefore managed the prophets was the king's wicked wife Jezebel.  As might be imagined, she was none to happy about such a stunning loss.  She therefore threatened to end Elijah's life in the most vehement way she could.

Beloved, it was human of Elijah to run, hide and request to be removed from God's service.  Depending on one's level of activity and commitment, the work of God is not for the faint of heart.  While many of us make excuses about not attending worship, sharing the gospel, helping our fellow human being or reading God's word, this man had stood alone with God against a king, 450 adversaries and an entire nation that was not rooting for him.  Even after prevailing, his life was in danger.  It is natural for us to become weary.  But it is at times like these that our faith must be at its strongest, because it is at times like these that God makes his presence felt most.

Elijah slept.  An angel from the Lord woke him and instructed him to eat, drink and refresh himself with nourishment the angel himself had provided.  Once done, Elijah laid down and the same thing happened again.  This time the angel told him about a great journey ahead of him and how he needed to strengthen himself for it.  The effects of this meal lasted 40 days.  And when the journey reached its conclusion, God met Elijah at the entrance to a cave in the form of a small whisper on the wind.

If you are tired and afraid, know that God has you, God provides for you,
God sustains you, God protects you, God still has work for you to do and in the end, God will meet you.