Wednesday, April 16, 2014

What's Good about Good Friday?

I stand amazed at the great lengths God would go to just to save us. You might say, "Why do I need to be saved? What am I being saved from?" It all goes back to the Garden of Eden. The story is found in the Book of Genesis. God created Adam and Eve and gave them simple instructions which ultimately they disobeyed. God had warned them that their disobedience would result in death. They chose to listen to the temptation of Satan rather than the clear command of God. The result was their banishment from the Garden, eventual physical death and separation from God. However God promised that he would provide a way of reconciliation for them. Since we all descended from Adam and Eve, the same curse is upon us, we're born, we die and without God's intervention we would be eternally separated from him in a place of and brimstone.

God says we are all born as sinners. Some will readily admit to being sinners but others believe we are basically good. The problem is that we have the wrong standard. We think we're good because we're not as bad as others who may be drunks, murderers or thieves. God is the one who sets the standard and His standard is nothing short of perfection. "...For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood." Romans 3:23-25

I don't understand why God loves mankind but I'm just glad that He does. He loves us so much that He provided a way of escape from eternal punishment. If we accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and allow Him to have control of our lives, we can become righteous in God's eyes. "...When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." Romans 3:6-8

I'm currently reading through the Gospels as we approach Resurrection Day. It's good to be reminded of the price that Jesus paid to redeem us from the penalty of our sin. The cross can be minimized to jewelry or clothing adornment but it was the most brutal form of execution ever known to man. But God decided this would be the method by which Jesus would willingly give up His life. "... Pilate had Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip. The soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they put a purple robe on him. “Hail! King of the Jews!” they mocked, as they slapped him across the face." "...So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went to the place called Place of the Skull. There they nailed him to the cross." John 19:1-3,17

That's what makes Good Friday "good". Jesus suffered the ignominious death on the cross but it was "good" for us because He became the substitute on our behalf. God poured out His just and holy wrath on His own Son, whom He had made to be the very embodiment of sin. You just need to believe it and receive Christ by faith. Good Friday can be good for you too when you become a follower of Jesus Christ.  

"For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." 2 Corinthians 5:21

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Life is Short

On February 3, 2014, my beautiful daughter Jessica went home to be with Jesus. She valiantly fought leukemia for the past 5 years. She left a gaping hole that only God can fill.

We don’t always understand why God allows certain things to occur, but whatever happens we know that we can trust Him. One good thing is she no longer has to suffer. Through Jessica’s death, the Lord gave me the opportunity to share the gospel and he used to occasion to restore some strained relationships. 

Death is an unwelcome intruder. It’s like an alien invader. When God created the first man and woman, they were made to be immortal. Death wasn’t part of the equation. They had been warned not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because that would bring death in the world.

The serpent deceived them into believing that God was holding out on them (same tactic he uses today). They fell into Satan’s snare and the world was cursed with the plague of death.

The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90

It is wise to live in light of the fact, life is short. 

Whenever I perform a funeral, I am reminded again of the brevity of our time here on earth. Death has a way of putting things into perspective. It forces us to think about our own mortality. When you’re young time seems to move so slowly and as we grow older, time seems to fly by. When I was young, 70 or 80 years seemed like an eternity but these days 70 doesn’t seem that far away. And here’s the thing, you don’t even know if you’ll make it to 70. Jessica was only 28 years old.

Seniors die, adults die, teens die, children die, even babies die. You don’t expect to bury your children, but it happens. We never know when that unwelcome intruder will come.  

“There is a time appointed unto man to die, and after death comes judgment.” Hebrews 9:27. 

That’s one appointment that you won’t break and you don’t know when your day will come.

O Lord, make me know my end and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting I am! Behold, you have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before you. Surely all mankind stands as a mere breath! Psalm 39:4-5

We need to prepare to meet God so that whenever that appointment with death comes we are ready to meet him. Only you can honestly answer this question, "Are you ready to meet Him?"

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

New Year's Revolution

Many of us make resolutions when the New Year comes. Some of us keep them a few weeks, some make it through the entire month of January. But very few actually accomplish their annual goals. I found a list of my goals from last year. I reached some, but failed to accomplish most of them, so I just changed the heading from 2013 to 2014. Since then God has been speaking to me about what He wants for me this year.

There's nothing wrong with resolutions per se. Here’s what the apostle Paul had to say about resolve…

To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

Maybe we make things too hard, too complex. Maybe the goals we set are not realistic, not measurable or not attainable. Maybe we should try to minimize our goals, narrow our focus. This year I have asked the Lord to give me just one thing to focus on and He gave me this one word…follow.

Remember what Jesus said about following Him?

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

We don’t like to deny ourselves. It seems almost un-American. We live in a land of indulgence and instant gratification. When we want something, we get it. We go buy it or charge it. But if we’re going to follow Jesus, He said that we must deny ourselves, and take up the cross daily. Taking up the cross means dying to self. The outer man is broken before Him. Like a kernel of wheat, the shell must break before new life can grow from within. That's what it means to follow Jesus.

Last month I read a book called “Speaking of Jesus” by Carl Madearis. He lived in Beirut, Lebanon for 12 years, serving as a missionary to Muslims. The way he reached Muslims was to talk about Jesus. They don’t want to hear about Christianity, they don’t want to hear about your spiritual convictions and preferences but they will listen to you talk about Jesus. They revere and honor Jesus as a prophet of God. What a novel idea!

It's no wonder Christians are scared to share their faith. We have complicated things and turned evangelism into a formula. There's the Romans Road, Four Spiritual Laws and Evangelism Explosion but why not simply talk about Jesus? But then you have to ask yourself, do you really know Jesus well enough to tell others about Him? If you're going to talk about Jesus, then you need to study His life, what He did, what He said. Here's what Paul had to say about his quest to know Jesus...

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 1 Corinthians 2:2

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:8-11

The one thing I want to focus on this year is following Jesus. I want to become more like Him. If I’m going to follow Jesus, then I need to get to know Him more. I need to saturate myself in the Word and spend more time with Him. I must learn what He did, what He said, see how He treated people and how He responded to them. I want to represent Him, I want to resemble Him, I want to imitate Him, I want to exemplify Him, I want to smell like Him. Maybe you will resolve to do this with me.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Waiting for the Promise

I have a confession to make. I don’t like to wait, but waiting is a part of life. When I was I child, waiting for Christmas seemed like an eternity. Then I couldn’t wait to become a teen, and then an adult. Still we wait. Driving to visit my family on the busiest travel day of the year we found ourselves waiting in traffic. Whenever I checkout at the store, I have a tendency to pick the slowest moving line, and so I wait. When I go to Starbucks, all I want is a plain old cup of black coffee, but I have to wait for the woman who wants a Venti, sugar-free, non-fat, vanilla soy, double shot latte, no foam, extra hot, Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha with light whip and extra syrup, double cupped. And so I’m learning to wait.

In the Garden of Eden, God made a promise to Adam and Eve after they sinned. He promised to send a Redeemer who would crush Satan, but the world had to wait thousands of years for the promise to come to fruition.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15

Two thousand years later, there lived a man named Abraham. God asked him to leave his country and his kinfolk and go to a foreign land that God would show him. He obeys and God makes a promise to Abraham.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:2-3

All people on earth would be blessed through the coming Messiah who would descend from Abraham. But it all began with one child of promise. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, but they waited twenty five years for Isaac to be born. 

The nation of Israel began with Abraham and one of his best known descendants was King David. When the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the next king, David still had to wait. He waited over 15 years before he would take the throne of Israel. And several years later God makes this promise to David.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:11-13

Israel waited another thousand years before the Messiah would come. Three hundred years after King David, God raised up the prophet Isaiah. This promise came through the prophet.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

The virgin birth is important. We’re all born with a sin nature because of Adam and Eve. In order for God to take on flesh and blood without the sin nature, he bypassed the earthly father. The child in Mary’s womb was miraculously conceived by Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus was able to live a sinless life and become the perfect sacrificial Lamb of God.

After the prophecy of Isaiah, Israel still had to wait seven hundred more years for the coming of Messiah. And many didn’t even recognize Him when He came. They didn’t realize that He would first come to suffer and die and at His second coming He would establish His earthly kingdom. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  Many didn’t understand that the promised one is Jesus.

In his gospel record, Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Abraham.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1

And so after the world waited four thousand years, the promised Messiah came to earth to save His people from their sins. Jesus the Christ lived a sinless life, was crucified, died and on the third day He rose again victorious over the grave, death and hell.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12 

And now we still wait. For two thousand years we’ve been waiting for His promised return.  

God’s timetable is not the same as ours. One day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day to the Lord. So from His perspective Jesus has only been gone for a couple of days! Peter encourages our hearts and reminds us why Jesus has not returned yet.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient and merciful toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9  

Monday, November 25, 2013

Give Thanks with a Grateful Heart

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

There is so much for which to thank God. Thank God that we still have our freedom in America and that we worship Him without government interference. Thank you Lord that you set your plan for mankind into motion long before you created the world. Thank you for revealing yourself and your plans for us through your Word. Thank you for your love, your redemption plan, your patience and for your forgiveness.

Lord Jesus, thank you for coming to earth and taking on flesh and blood. Thank you for your sinless life and your sin bearing death on a cross. God made you to become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in you Jesus. Thank you for being our substitute, paying the price that we owed for the penalty of our sins. Because of your sacrifice we can come boldly and with confidence to the throne of grace to obtain mercy and grace to help in time of need. Thank you Lord for enduring the cross, scorning its shame, and now you sit at the right hand of the throne of God, ever making intercession for us. Now God has exalted you to the highest place and given you the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Thank you Father for my spouse who is the perfect complement for me, thank you for our children, our extended family and our church family. Thank you for our Christian friends and for those friends who have yet to join your family. Thank you for life, health and strength, for the activity of our limbs, for the experience of our senses. Thank you for the beauty of the world around us, the sun, moon and stars, all of nature and the beautiful colors we experience each year. Thank you for food, clothing, shelter, material blessings, for our jobs and the ability to do our work for your glory. Thank you Lord for giving us a future and a hope. We eagerly await the day when the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise. Then we who are still alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.

Our hearts are filled with gratitude because we are called, chosen and kept by the power of your Holy Spirit. All glory, praise and honor is due to you O God our Father, in the matchless name of Jesus our wonderful Lord and Savior, Amen.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Jesus Christ is our hope!

I grew up in Philadelphia in a very dysfunctional family. My father was a verbally and physically abusive alcoholic. There were many times my mother, my sister and I had to flee for safety to a relative’s house.

My mother put us in Catholic school to get a good education. We also got a good dose of religion. Catholic school taught me that if I was good enough, I would get to heaven. So I tried to please God by doing good. Only problem was I wasn't very good at being good or doing good.

In 1969 we moved to New Jersey and I started attending public school. That was around the time when both my parents became Christians but I became disillusioned with organized religion. So I turned to drugs and alcohol and lived a very wild and self-destructive life for many years.

At 21 years of age, a Christian bookstore owner invited me to church where I first heard the gospel and gave my life over to the control of Christ. Jesus Christ can bring hope to an otherwise hopeless life.

When you become a Christian, something supernatural happens! You receive the Holy Spirit. This physical body becomes the temple of God. The Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we're in God’s family.

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:16-17

When you're a member of God’s family, you're an heir to a spiritual inheritance.

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:13-14

The Holy Spirit is the earnest, the down payment, the guarantee of our inheritance. Now you have the Spirit living within but one day we get to cash in the Holy Spirit for our full inheritance, living eternally with God.

I know what it’s like to be without hope. Maybe you feel hopeless today. You may have a degenerative or terminal disease. Your marriage may be on the rocks. You may be a drug addict or alcoholic. You may be on the brink of financial failure. You may have given up all hope and want to end it all. That’s not the answer. Jesus is the answer. There is no problem so big that God can’t solve it. Your life may be a chaotic mess but there is hope in Jesus Christ. Stop running from God. Turn and run to Him!