Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Real Valentine

Valentine was a Roman Priest at a time when there was an emperor named Claudius who persecuted the church. He had an edict that prohibited the marriage of young people. This was based on the hypothesis that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers because married soldiers might be afraid of what might happen to them or their wives or families if they died.

Valentine lived in a very permissive society. Polygamy would have been much more popular than monogamy. And yet some young couples seemed to be attracted to Christianity. But obviously the church thought that marriage was very sacred between one man and one woman for their life and that it was to be encouraged. And so it immediately presented the problem of what the church should do about this.

The idea of encouraging them to marry within the church was what Valentine was all about. And he secretly married them because of the edict.

Valentine was eventually caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing marriage ceremonies against the command of Emperor Claudius the second. There are legends surrounding Valentine's actions while in prison.

One of the men who was to judge him in line with the Roman law was a man called Asterius, whose daughter was blind. He was supposed to have prayed with and healed the young girl with such astonishing effect that Asterius himself became a Christian.

In the year 269 AD, Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation all because of his stand for Christian marriage. The story goes that the last words he wrote were in a note to Asterius' daughter. He inspired today's romantic missives by signing it, "from your Valentine."

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:7-11

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Final Enemy

Three years ago, exactly one week after my birthday, came the death day of my 28-year-old daughter Jessica. I still experience occasional waves of grief. Death is the final enemy we all must face. Some flirt with death. Others make light of death by their obsession with skulls and skeletons. But when that unwelcome intruder finally comes it is a very serious matter.

Have you ever wondered why people die? Death is a result of sin. 
Sin came into the world through Adam our forefather. 

When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. Romans 5:12

We are natural born sinners in a world that remains under a curse because of that first sin. So, death is the price we must pay for because we all descend from Adam. 

“…the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23

Some people have difficulty sleeping at night because they are afraid of death. Ancient explorers used to search for the Fountain of Youth. Today we do all sorts of things to prolong death and extend our lives, but no matter how long you live, death will ultimately come.

“…it is appointed to men once to die, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27

That is one appointment you will not break. Every man, woman, boy and girl will die and then we all will stand before the God who fashioned us within our mother’s womb.

I’ve only been a pastor since October 2011, and since then I have witnessed my fair share of death. I have performed 15 funerals in the past five years, including the death of my daughter. Funerals are difficult for me. You get to know someone personally, you do life together with them, and then you watch them face the final enemy. Those who reject God resist the scourge of death because they fear the unknown. Those who have surrendered their life to Jesus Christ welcome death with dignity and with the certainty of knowing where they are going.

We are confident and prefer to live away from this body and to live with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:8

Years ago, I was a reporter in New York and became desensitized to the tragic news that I reported each day. These days I observe funeral directors to see how they handle the constant exposure to death and grief. Many of them have become desensitized to death. Maybe it’s the only way they can deal with the continual interaction with mortality. However, as a pastor, I empathize with the sorrow and grief of the family, in order to offer comfort to them.

I just performed a funeral a few days ago, and will experience another one next week. Although I am clothed in the armor of God, every funeral I perform leaves a chink in my armor. Death can take its toll on you, but then I remember pastors who have to preach multiple funerals after natural disasters and that puts things into perspective for me.

The one joy that I find in funerals is in sharing the gospel. When confronted with our own mortality, that’s the best time to preach eternal life through Jesus Christ. Salvation comes through receiving Jesus as Lord, and accepting His sacrifice on the cross as the payment for your sins. We are all God’s creation but Jesus gives us the right to become God’s children.

“… to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” John 1:12

Unfortunately, too many believe the myth that you can earn your salvation through good works, but God’s word dispels this lie.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Others believe that there are many ways to God, but Jesus was very clear when He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

Those who receive Jesus Christ as Lord have hope beyond the grave. Although we grieve, our grief is mingled with hope. Our sorrow is blended with joy. We don’t fear because we know what is on the other side. For believers, death is simply a transition from this life to the next.

So we are always confident. We know that as long as we are living in these bodies, we are living away from the Lord. Indeed, our lives are guided by faith, not by sight. We are confident and prefer to live away from this body and to live with the Lord. Whether we live in the body or move out of it, our goal is to be pleasing to him. 2 Corinthians 5:6-9

Friday, January 06, 2017

Fresh Start

Everybody gets all excited about the start of a new year. There’s so much hype, fanfare and enthusiasm. It’s a time for resolutions but unfortunately many resolutions don’t last. Statistics say 45% of Americans make resolutions but only 8% of them actually keep these resolutions.

You determine that this is the year you lose those unwanted pounds. So, you justify the price of a membership at a fitness center and begin working out every day. But the workouts soon diminish to three times a week and then only weekly before you finally give up and wonder why you spent all that money. 67% of those who have gym memberships never use them.

You begin the new year with a plan to read through the entire Bible. The book of Genesis is exciting and full of familiar stories but you begin to bog down with all of the commands and instructions in Exodus, and you give up before you get to Leviticus. We’ve all been there.

There is nothing magical about a new year. What if you faced each month with the same excitement? Or each week? Or each day?  Maybe that’s what God had in mind when he said,

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

You can begin every day with a new resolve. Confess your sins and have a clean slate today.

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

There is no need to wait for the new year to make changes in your life. If today didn’t turn out the way you anticipated, God’s love and mercy are available for a fresh start tomorrow.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:22-23

Be grateful for all the good things in your life. Write them down somewhere so that you don’t forget. Thank God for all that you have. Be specific. We have many reasons to be thankful.

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Begin each day with prayer. Let God speak from the Bible. Apply His Word to your life. Have the right attitude. Use your time wisely. Remember that your days are numbered.

Make the best use of your time here on earth, recognize and take advantage of every opportunity and use it with wisdom and diligence. Ephesians 5:16