Archive | November, 2016

Three Questions of Christmas

28 Nov

christmas

“Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Revelation 1:5).

You never know how a baby will turn out.

It is no secret that raising children can be a heartbreaking experience.  No matter how they turn out, they break your heart at some point or another. I don’t say this vindictively or out of anger but with the growing process comes a spreading of the wings, some trying out and testing of new boundaries. And even though the ending is usually good, there is always that time of inevitable heartbreak. I know of which I speak.

Still, when you first hold that baby, you wonder how they’ll turn out. You wonder what they will become, what type of relationship you’ll have with them when they are teenagers, what kind of man or woman they will marry.

Parents and grandparents have been wondering about babies since time began. It must have been that way when Jesus was born. Luke 2:19 tells us that after the shepherds visited Mary and no doubt shared what the angels had said to them, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” There was certainly a lot to think about:

“He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:33).
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord”
(Luke 2:11).
“A sword will pierce your own soul too”
(Luke 2:35).

The last verse of Mark Lowry’s beautiful Mary, Did You Know? poses the question this way:

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am.

You never know how a baby will turn out, do you?
This one turned out to be the Savior of the world.

But not everyone knows that or understands it or believes it. As we prepare our hearts for Christmas, let’s remind ourselves once again who Jesus really is. Revelation 1:5 offers a threefold picture of our Lord. This verse is part of John’s introduction to his book where he introduces himself and wishes his readers grace and peace.  Here is his description of Jesus Christ:  “Who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.” 

These three phrases help us understand the true identity of the baby born in Bethlehem. Each one answers a question we would like to ask about Jesus Christ.

Question number 1: Can I trust Him?

The first question is the most basic of all. The men and women of this generation have heard the name of Jesus many times. What they want to know is very simple-“Can I trust him?” In a world of skepticism, this is where we must begin. We discover the answer in John’s first title. He calls Jesus “the faithful witness.” A witness tells what he has seen or heard. A faithful witness is one whose testimony is reliable every time.

John means that Jesus Christ can be relied upon to tell the truth. When he speaks, he speaks only the truth. His words are absolutely true and authoritative. 1 Timothy 6:13 speaks of “Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate, made the good confession.” What did he say when he stood before Pilate? “I came into the world to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). Jesus Christ is the supreme truth-teller, and those who want to find the truth must listen to him.

Writing several hundred years ago, one writer said that the title “faithful witness” means four things:

1. What God said, Christ made known.
2. He taught without regard to the words of men.
3. He was faithful even in death.
4. He will reveal the truth in the end.

I love this statement by John Watson:

“No one has yet discovered the word Jesus ought to have said, none suggested the better word he might have said. No action of his has shocked our moral sense. None has fallen short of the ideal. He is full of surprises, but they are all the surprises of perfection.”

Every person has to deal with this fundamental issue about Jesus–Can I trust him? Some people will answer yes, others will say no. Until this issue is settled, there is no point in talking about anything else.

Many years ago Bob Harrington, the Chaplain of Bourbon Street, and Madeline Murray O’Hair, the famous atheist, had a debate on the Donohue TV program. At one point someone in the audience asked Mrs. O’Hair what she was going to do when Jesus returned. What would she say then? With great confidence she declared, “It won’t happen, so I don’t have to worry about that.” To which Bob Harrington replied, “The Bible contains 318 verses that speak of the return of Jesus Christ. She’s just said he isn’t going to return. Over here you’ve got 318 verses in the book of God and over there you’ve got one verse from the book of O’Hair. Now, who you gonna believe?”

That’s the key question.

Who are you going to believe?

Let’s suppose you don’t want to take my word for it. Read the record for yourself. Take 30 days to read the Gospel account. Read the story for yourself and come to your own conclusions. I will tell you what I believe will happen. If you read with an open mind and an open heart, you will come to the inevitable conclusion that what Jesus said is true, that he is the truth, and that his word can be eternally trusted.

I am not saying anything to try to prove it to you. I simply challenge you to read it for yourself. Make up your own mind. When you do, you will find that he is entirely trustworthy.

Can I trust him? Yes I can, for he is the faithful witness.

Question #2: Does He have the power to help me?

That naturally leads to another question. “If I trust him, does he have the power to help me?” The answer is found in John’s second title for Jesus Christ. He calls him “the firstborn from the dead.” This refers to his resurrection from the dead. When he rose from the dead, he was the “firstborn from the dead.” What exactly does that mean? It means he is the first person who ever rose from the dead never to die again. During his ministry Jesus raised several people from the dead, including Lazarus who had been dead four days (John 11). Each occasion was a remarkable miracle but they had this in common. All of the people Jesus raised would eventually die again.

But not Jesus himself.

When he came forth from the tomb on Easter Sunday morning, he rose once and for all. When he left the grave, he left for good. Jesus is the firstborn from the dead in the sense that he is the first in a long line of people who will be raised from the dead never to die again.

I find great comfort in this. Over the years I have presided at many funerals. I know what it’s like to stand at the graveside and try to say something hopeful. It’s not easy to pray when someone you love has been taken from you.  No wonder the Bible calls death “the last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

In those moments I find strength in one thing and one thing only. Jesus has conquered the grave and done what no mortal man has ever done. He has come back from the dead never to die again. What happens to those who believe in him? Thank God, we are not left to wonder or to speculate. God himself has spoken on that subject. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 (NASB) says, “For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”

“If we believe.” It is as simple and as difficult as that. You will never convince yourself of the resurrection by camping out in a cemetery. If you go to a cemetery and wait for a resurrection, you’ll have to wait a long time. After all, the last one happened over 2,000 years ago. But we have the word of God which overrides anything we can see with our eyes. Our faith in the resurrection of the dead does not rest in what our eyes can see. Our faith rests in that act of God whereby he raised Jesus from the dead. If God can do that, he can do anything.

Does Jesus have the power to help you?  Yes he does, for he is the firstborn from the dead.

Question #3: “Suppose I do trust him, and suppose he does have the power to help me, will Jesus take care of my future?”

The answer comes in John’s final title for Jesus Christ. It is breathtaking in its scope. He calls Jesus “the ruler of the kings of the earth.” The word for “ruler” means he is the ultimate authority over all the kings of the earth. They are great, but he is greater. They are mighty, but he is mightier. Millions answer to them, but they answer to him. He is not merely one of the kings. He rules over them all.

When John Piper preached on this phrase, he put the matter this way:

If George Bush says to Jesus, “How can you be the ruler over me? I have my office by the election of the people of the United States, a sovereign nation, and by virtue of a constitutional inauguration and installation,” Jesus will answer, “I have my office as ruler over you by God’s election and by virtue of my resurrection from the dead, my indestructible life, and my installation at God’s right hand.”

But that sermon was preached in 1989. The George Bush of that quote would be George H. W. Bush. Since then we’ve had Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and now we’ve got Barack Obama as our president. Soon, it will be Donald Trump. The quote is still true no matter who occupies the White House. It’s as true for George Washington as it is for George Bush (father or son). It’s as true for Abraham Lincoln as it is for John Kennedy or Barack Obama. Or yes, even Donald Trump.

Who are the rulers of the earth John is talking about? They are political leaders in their various spheres–mayors and councilmen, chairmen and governors, congressmen and senators, presidents and prime ministers, and potentates of every variety. There are small-time kings who rule tiny realms and mighty kings who rule vast empires.

Their names are Obama, Putin, Netanyahu, and a million others just like them.

Jesus is ruler over them all. It’s true this world is in a mess. That’s why it’s hard to believe this is true. All the evidence seems to move in the opposite direction. The pornographers go free, the baby-killers are untouched, the politicians break the laws they write, the drug dealers make their millions, and the nations arm themselves for total destruction. When you look around, you could make a good case that Satan is the ruler of the kings of the earth.

But it only seems that way. Satan has no power except that granted to him by God. In due time and at the proper moment, Jesus will step back on the stage of world history. Think of it. The hands that were nailed to the cross will someday rule the world. Though we do not see it today, it is certain and sure of fulfillment. That’s what the book of Revelation is all about. Read it for yourself and see how the story ends.

In the meantime, right now and at this very moment, he is the ruler of the kings of the earth.

By him they reign.
By him they are restrained.
By him they are replaced.
By him they will be judged.

Will Jesus take care of my future? Yes he will, for he is the ruler of the kings of the earth. You’re in good hands when you are in his hands for those hands rule the universe.

But that wasn’t evident on that first night in Bethlehem. A casual onlooker would not have suspected the earthshaking events that were taking place in a forgotten stable in a tiny village in a remote corner of the Roman Empire. The prospects for the young child didn’t seem very promising.

You can never tell how a baby will turn out.
But this one would surprise us all.
And we are still surprised by him 2000 years later.

What is the application? Grip fast to Jesus Christ. There is no security anywhere else. Today as yesterday and tomorrow as today, he is the answer to the deepest questions of life.

Can I trust him?  Yes I can, for he is the faithful witness.
Does he have the power to help me?  Yes he does, for he is the firstborn from the dead.
Will he take care of my future?  Yes he will, for he is the ruler of the kings of the earth.

We all need him and we need him more than we know. This truth is worth repeating: You’re in good hands when you are in his hands, for those hands rule the universe.

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King.

Place your life in his strong hands and you will never be disappointed.

Advertisements

THE UNIVERSAL GIFT

13 Nov

Most everyone knows I am a cellphone addict. I carry it with me everywhere I go. In fact, the only drawback of prison ministry is they won’t let me carry my phone inside the unit.

But one thing that keeps happening is I keep losing my charger cord. I probably buy five or six cords a year.  Now I am pretty sure it’s not completely my fault.  I think it’s possible that after much use, they just vaporize into thin air. I don’t know.

In replacing my cord, I have learned something else. With the many different kinds of phones, and the many different ends that connect them, I feel like I need an engineering degree to figure out which one to buy. There are so many ends to choose from, I wonder why don’t they make a one size fits all. Alas, not all chargers are equal. Not all chargers fit my phone. And despite what the package may say, not all chargers are universal.

This is certainly true of cell phones. But what about the spiritual realm?

In the youth ministry that I served, I would pass a church about a block and a half from our church campus. It was a Universal Church. They had a sign board out front that read, “Now accepting all religious faiths – find your path to heaven.”

It’s a claim that all religions are universal.

Simply choose one to find your way to Heaven.

The appeal of a Universal church is twofold. They are high on tolerance. In fact they have made tolerance the highest virtue that one can strive for. The second thing they have done is made sincerity the key indicator of faith. So every path is thought to be equal whether it is Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or the religion of the flying Spaghetti Monster. As long a you or I are genuine about our belief, we have our ticket punched.

And in our culture it has a certain appeal. In American culture, the new buzzwords are “tolerance” and “genuine”. And in our society it is considered outrageous to make any exclusive claim to know the right path to attain eternal life. It’s our culture; it’s the mindset of the world around us.

And it leads to some questions. As Christians, are we really too intolerant of other beliefs? Are we being unfairly exclusive when we say that Jesus is the only way to have eternal life? How do we address this issue in a culture where tolerance is the highest virtue and where sincerity is the only thing necessary for faith?

As we read the text, understand these are the words of Jesus. Jesus is preaching to a crowd of people while they are seated on a hillside to a Jewish audience.  Listen to what He says.

Matthew 7:1-5
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Now you have probably heard this passage thrown around a lot by the “tolerance movement.” But it is often ripped out of context.

To whom is Jesus speaking? He is talking to Jews who believe they have salvation guaranteed because they are Jews. Yes, their outward religious activity is unmatched. But their hearts don’t match. In part, this IS a call for sincerity. That’s what Jesus has been saying in Matthew 5-6. But they are not willing to accept anyone outside of themselves into the faith. Jesus is talking about is a Jew looking at someone who isn’t Jewish and saying, “There’s no way that evil person can ever have salvation.”

And he is telling them that salvation is not limited to the select few who believe they have it already made. The gift of salvation is more “universal” than that. Being genuine is part of it, but it isn’t the whole picture. And not all faiths are alike. Look at what Jesus says following this.

Matthew 7:6
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Pearls are precious. Pigs would have been unclean animals. So while Jesus points to a Salvation that is open, he also warns, “Be careful and evaluate who you share your pearls with.” There will be some who will not accept it.

Not all will treat the gift of salvation as precious.

There will be some who reject salvation. The gift is universal, but acceptance of it not.

I could put an advertisement on Facebook that said, “F.C.C. now giving away $50.00 free of charge. Stop by the office to pick up your free gift.” There would be people who stopped, but there would also be people who ignored the ad. It must be a scam, or there must be a catch. The gift is universal (open to anyone to accept), but not everyone will accept it.

Jesus goes on to describe the universal gift in verses 7-11.

Matthew 7:7-11
`7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Again some take this passage and pull it out of context to talk about material possessions.
But what is the context of the surrounding verses that is Jesus already talking about? Jesus is talking about worthiness of salvation. I think it’s appropriate to insert the words “gift of salvation” in the text.

Ask and the gift of salvation will be given to you. Seek the gift of salvation and you will find it. Knock on the door and the gift of salvation will be opened to you.

That is a tremendously beautiful picture of the openness of salvation.

Salvation is available to anyone who asks, seeks, or knocks.

But implied in this is a need to ask, a need to seek, a need to knock on the door.

That’s a huge implication in this text because if this is correct, the door is shut. It’s not open for whoever wants to enter in with whatever faith they have.

Now, Jesus is ready to open the door — it’s unlocked. Jesus doesn’t look through the peephole and say, “Oh no, It’s HIM!” That’s what He was warning the Jews about when he said “Do not judge.” But the door starts shut.

So how do we gain entry?
Listen to what Jesus says in verses 13-14

Matthew 7:13-14
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Jesus says enter through the narrow gate. It’s small, the road is narrow. It is difficult to find and it is difficult to stay on. But the narrow gate leads to life.

Now my question to those who are Universalists is this: Narrow and small are restrictive kinds of words aren’t they?

Salvation does not allow us to “be comfortable.”

The truth is that there will be people who reject the narrow path to take the wide road because the narrow path is uncomfortable. For some the idea of being a Christian is very uncomfortable. It can lead to ostracizing by family, suffering, even death. We miss that in American culture where the word “Christian” now has a watered down meaning. (It’s the reason I prefer the phrase “Evangelical” or “Christ follower”

And can I stop and make a quick observation?

When I hear someone say, “Just do what makes you happy”, I often cringe. Our goal isn’t to be comfortable.

Being on the narrow path isn’t always going to be comfortable, but we know where the path leads. Jesus says the small gate and the narrow road lead to life.

But what does that mean. What is the gate; where is the road? Are all roads the same?
Jesus defines in the gospel of John what the gate and the road are.

In John 10, Jesus is talking to a group of men known as Pharisees.
There are some who are jealous of Jesus and his popularity and they have already decided to reject Jesus. But there are also some who are still debating whether his teaching makes sense. Jesus speaks to both groups using a word picture about a shepherd and his sheep.

John 10:7-10
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus refers to HIMSELF as the gate. Jesus is the small gate.

Jump ahead to John 14. Again these are Jesus’ words. In John 14, Jesus is talking to his disciples. This is part of a conversation that he has with them just hours before he is arrested, tried, and led to the cross. In the dialogue, Jesus has revealed to his disciples that he is going to a place where they cannot follow. He says I will soon invite you to follow. When his disciples ask him how they will find their way, he tells them this in John 14:6

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus clearly refers to himself as the way. In fact he refers to Himself as the ONLY way. No one reaches the Father except through me. It’s a pretty exclusive claim.

So going back to our text in Matthew 7, I think it is logical to conclude that when Jesus says enter through the narrow gate he is referring to himself.

The Universal Gift of Salvation is limited to those ONLY who enter into it through Jesus.

The gift of salvation is universal, but the passage to it is limited to Jesus.

According to Jesus, only a few find it. Not everyone will be saved. In fact, those who enter the gate and walk the road are rare. My goal is not to have people question their salvation, but there may be people who are here today who haven’t really entered the gate. There may be some who have not found the road. In fact we need to evaluate. If Christ is a convenience rather than a necessity, be warned. If you or I have never endured discomfort for the sake of Jesus, and notice I said “for the sake of Jesus”, we might be walking on the wide road. And where does that road lead? Jesus says, “To destruction.”

We have seen in this passage how Jesus takes the world’s idea of tolerance and he turns it upside down. We can almost see where Jesus has said, “Tolerance of other religions is not the highest virtue; the highest virtue is faith in Me.”

Yes Christianity is exclusive, but so are all other religions. Buddhism is reserved for those who are good enough (Karma). Islam is for those who are obedient enough. Hinduism has a cast system that people move up and down in. It includes people known as “untouchables” (people unworthy of salvation and unworthy to help). But in Jesus it’s different. We have seen where Jesus has given an open invitation to anyone who asks, seeks, or knocks.

It’s a different view than the world has. But for those who accept Christ, the gift of salvation is universally inclusive. We don’t have to be good enough to enter. We don’t have to be the right heritage or culture to enter. There is no padlock on the gate; there is no magical key we have to turn. We simply have to get on or knees to get through the gate.

salvation

I Don’t Like Him But I Did Vote For Him.. or why we vote the platform and not the person.

1 Nov

trumpvshillary

Let’s be clear.

I don’t like Donald Trump.

I don’t like his erratic behavior.

I don’t like the way he treated the other candidates during the primary season. The name calling got ridiculous.

I don’t think he shows respect to women. The way he reacted to Carly Fiorina’s looks, the way he talked about women on the bus says a lot.

I think he’s arrogant.

Nevertheless, he gets my vote.

Wait… what?

That doesn’t make any sense.

“You don’t like him but you’re going to vote for him?  Why? Just because he’s the Republican candidate?”

Precisely.

“That’s ridiculous. That’s what has got our country into a mess in the first place. We need to look at the individual and not the platform!”

Precisely.

“Okay, you’re not making any sense!”

Let me explain…

I considered a third party. For the first time in my life, I really considered it.

I cannot stand Hillary Clinton. I have equal disdain for the Democratic party. My reasons why are simple:

I do not condone the killing of children.  And that is exactly the definition of abortion. The scripture makes it clear that God knew us when we were in the mothers womb. God’s Word trumps anything anyone else has to say. Life begins at conception.

The Democratic party has not only condoned the idea of this barbaric act. They have advanced it, provided federal funds for it, increased the barbarism of it all.

Further, I do not believe in gay marriage. Yes, I have friends who are gay. Good friends. People I genuinely care about. But I also believe that Scripture is clear that God designed man for woman and woman for man. Homosexuality, according to Scripture, is wrong. I do not want to see anyone hurt. I do not believe in “gay bashing”. I simply cannot support legislation that supports that lifestyle.

There are other reasons. I do not support big government and I believe in a strong national defense. Neither of which are Democratic party strong points.

I simply cannot agree with their platform.

I looked at the Libertarian platform. Quiet simply, it is almost too much the other extreme. Where the Democratic party seems to support the government wanting to control every aspect of your life, the Libertarians seem to be as clase to anarchy as you can possibly get. There has to be some say by the Federal government. Not to the extreme the Democrats seem to want, but certainly not a complete and total hands off “if it feels good, do it” approach like the Libertarians want either. Johnson has been labeling himself as “the sane choice” but quite frankly, the platform on which he is running is dangerous.

And don’t even get me started about the Green Party. I am not for being wasteful with the planetary resources that God gave us. But that is not something a Presidential candidate should be focusing on right now (in my humble yet correct opinion).

Here is the conclusion I came to: Until the party changes their platform, I must vote with the Republican party. Why? Because it represents who I am. Donald Trump does not represent me but he is running on a platform that does.

Hillary may talk about moving America forward but she also talks about being for partial birth abortion. That is moving America backward.

She may talk about working for the American people. But her lies and the continued scandals that have resulted because of them indicate something totally different.

Again, I am not calling Donald Trump a boy scout. But the platform he stands on represents me.

One last thing: if you’re a member of my church or even a fellow Christian, I do not judge you or think less of you for how you vote. I still love you. Please afford me the same courtesy.

So there.