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Lent #7: It is Friday, Good Friday

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there. Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. — Matthew 27:33-37
It was Friday.  Now came the time for the clash between good and evil, heaven and hell. The crucifixion of Jesus is both the worst moment in all human history, and the reality of humanity’s only hope. That’s why we call the Friday before Easter, Good Friday.
It was Friday. Jesus’ followers were still too weak to understand, and so they ran. The religious elite carried out their wicked plans. The political leaders passed the buck, and in the end, they discarded Jesus for the sake of convenience. The crowds gawked.
It was Friday. Two thieves hung on either side of a man whose crime was hard to comprehend. The placard above his head announced with a degree of sarcasm: “King of the Jews.” That must have attracted some attention. We know of seven things Jesus said from that cross, including a pronouncement of forgiveness for the soldiers, provision for the care of his mother, and a plea for something to wet his parched mouth. But the last words on that last day of his natural human life were the most important: “It is finished!” (John 19:30). That was not a cry of resignation, nor capitulation or surrender. It was a shout of victory that all that God had planned for the restoration of sinful human beings was now accomplished. Now there could be justification! Redemption! Reconciliation! Salvation! All that needed to be done for the debt and wound of sin had been done. Forgiveness was now free.
It was Friday. All that remained was for Jesus to step out from the shadow of death, which he would easily do after a few days. But first, the disciples had time to search their hearts for how something good could be found in something so bad. And the enemies of God disappeared into the darkness of their own duplicity.
But that was Friday… Sunday was coming!

Lent #6

“We are kept by the power of God through faith…” 1 Peter 1:10
In 2015 we visited Israel with several folks from Fruit Cove. Part of our tour included a diversion down to the courtyard of Caiaphas, the high priest before whom Jesus stood trial.
The visitor quickly notices flags lining the descending stairway down to the courtyard. The flags have images of roosters on them. Roosters are everywhere. There are rooster t-shirts in the souvenir shops, and roosters decorating coffee mugs.
Most remarkably, there are rooster statues in the courtyard.  Roosters are shown roosting on the heads of people in the courtyard. A large rooster oversees the courtyard scene.
The roosters, of course, are reminders of the prediction that Jesus made about Peter’s denial of Him. It happened just as Jesus said it would. Before the cock crowed, Peter had denied his Lord in spite of his assurance that he wouldn’t.
I’m sure, in Peter’s mind, that shadowed event was never far away. But it’s also a stark reminder to us that, first of all, the world doesn’t want to forgive our failures. Of all the wonderful things that Peter did since, he is still remembered in this ignoble way.
Thanks be to God, He scatters the roosters for us! God has taken our sins from us and cast them into the depth of the sea! And the very Jesus Who Peter betrayed, prayed from the cross, “Father forgive them…”
Don’t let the roosters rule your life! The blood of Christ was shed to scatter them from your life once and for all.

Lent #5

“Nevertheless, not My will but Thine be done…” (Luke 22:42)

We are living through times like we’ve never experienced in our lifetime.  The uncertainty of it all produces a lot of dilemmas for us.  Times of crisis usually do.  They are “perplexing.”  They are chaotic.

Ideally, though, they force us to our knees in prayer.  Maybe we need to spend more time just focused there, rather than worry about  the storm blowing around us.    Every emotion you are experiencing right now… fear, anxiety, anger, depression, loneliness, frustration… should be processed before God in prayer.  Don’t dwell on it until you have prayed about it!

We stand in serious times, to paraphrase a famous quote of John Adams.  Most of us have never seen times more serious than these.  It seems almost hourly a new reality is revealed making our bad situation worse.

Let’s admit it.  We do find ourselves confused, perplexed, sometimes frightened, anxious, stressed, and unsure what to do next.  Sometimes that is precisely where life circumstances bring us.  God knows right where you are today.  He is still on His throne and He is the One we bow before.

Even as our Lord did that night in the garden.  In His most perplexing moment, He brought it to the Father in prayer.

And let us ALWAYS do the same!

Lent #4

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.  — Galatians 6:12-15
What makes you proud? What is that one thing that makes you quick to tell someone because you are so proud? Maybe it’s a new job, or your family’s new home, or the accomplishments of a child or grandchild. Maybe you finally concluded that long-sought college degree. We all have those things of which we are most proud.
Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians, which we are studying Sunday mornings, to certain Christians who had commenced their spiritual life with faith in Jesus, but then were told by others that Paul’s message of grace was incomplete and probably should be rejected. Author and pastor Mel Lawrenz offers this:
 “They taught that it is not enough to believe in Jesus and follow him; you must also continue to observe those hundreds of regulations in the Old Testament. Even if you are a Gentile, you should still observe the dietary laws, the sacrifices, and circumcision, they said. Paul saw this as a spiritual emergency, and he wrote this letter to warn these believers not to be bewitched by those legalists. There is one way to God. Let the things in your life that should die, die. Let strivings die, let legalism die, let love for the world die, let personal spiritual pride die. Resign it all, give it all over, let it be crucified as Jesus let himself be crucified, and you will be free. Then we will have something to boast about. “
May we always brag about Jesus Christ. We must proudly shout his name to the world! Then we’ll fill up with a pride not in ourselves, but in him. And we will begin to look at the cross of Calvary and see it as a moment of glory, not shame.

Lent 3: Forgiven

From the cross, His hands and feet nailed to rough timber, Jesus spoke seven times. The first thing out of His mouth, when others cursed their enemies and cursed the ones who nailed them there, was “Father, forgive them…they don’t know what they do.”
If I could only choose only one word to characterize the follower of Jesus, that word would be “forgiven.” To be forgiven means that sin has been carried away…a debt owed has been paid in full…an injury caused has been fully restored…the offense has been covered.
To be forgiven captures the emphasis of words like “grace,” and “peace,” and “mercy” and “reborn.” And at the cross of Calvary, forgiveness was accomplished in full. Nothing was left behind. No pieces were left to be picked up at a later date. All can be forgiven.
But forgiveness, while freely offered, was not freely purchased. The cross was not an exercise in cheap grace for a costlier penalty. It was the full payment price for debts incurred. The cross did not just lightly cover over the sins committed. The blood of Jesus shed there for us was full atonement, complete satisfaction of the Father’s wrath against sin.
This begs a question: If the Triune God of the Universe, our Creator, and only wise God is satisfied with the sacrifice of Jesus, how can we look for another way? There is only one way for sin to be taken out of the way; for debts to be fully repaid. And that way is “by grace through faith” in Jesus’ sacrifice.
As Easter draws nearer, take some time again to linger at the foot of the cross. Bring the sins that still torment you, the lingering guilt and regret and shame over sins long ago forgiven and allow the blood of Jesus to cover them once and forever.
Because of Jesus, we are forgiven. Our debts are paid. Our sacrifice offered to a Holy God. There is none greater. There is none other.
Trust. Jesus.  Today.

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

How is Jesus to be understood?  Did he stride out of the wilderness 2000 years ago to preach a gentle message of peace and brotherhood? Or did he perhaps advocate some form of revolution?  When did he realize his mission would end with death upon a cross?  Did he view himself to be the promised Messiah?  Did he understand himself to be both God and man?

Ostling, Time Magazine

For those who say that Jesus did not see Himself as God, the opening verses of John 1 correct their view.  “Confusion about the deity of Christ is inexcusable because the biblical teaching regarding it is clear and unmistakable.  Jesus Christ is the pre-existent Word, Who enjoys full face-to-face communion and divine life with the Father, and is Himself God.” (MacArthur)

Clearly the Biblical affirmation that “Jesus Christ is Lord” was a belief that He was God.  His resurrection from the dead proved it without a doubt.

Who do you say Jesus is?

“He is Lord

He is Lord

He is risen from the dead

And He is Lord.”

The Empty Hope of Greed

It is important to remember at the conclusion of our little series that God is the owner of everything.  That means you really own…nothing.  He gives us “all things richly to enjoy.”   When we take an offering to “give” something to God,  we are only giving to God what He already owns.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having nice things and enjoying them.  The Bible does not condemn wealth or wealthy people.  But it does condemn the love of it.  “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” When we pursue wealth as an end in itself, it becomes the wellspring of all kinds of evil.

  1. We cannot separate our attitude toward money and material possessions from the true condition of our spirituality.  Your money and your use of it is a test.
  2. You cannot relate to Jesus authentically without dealing with this issue.  Jesus dealt with money (materialism, mammon) more than He talked about faith, or prayer or heaven.  Over 2,350 verses to be exact.  Most of the parables of Jesus are related to money.  You cannot hide and shelter your money as though it has no consequence to your eternal health and well-being.

Covetousness is probably one of the most downplayed yet most prevalent sins we are guilty of today.  All of us.  We have all tasted greed.

The Tenth commandment in Exodus 20:17 warns us, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s possessions.” His wife, his home, his servants, his animals.  Don’t look over the fence and long for what your neighbor has.

Paul pointed out that the law convicted him he was covetous:

“For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.”   Romans 7:7-8 ESV

He lusted for things that he should not.  And in Colossians he makes a startling connection:

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”   Colossians 3:5 ESV

What is covetousness?  Idolatry.  You are looking to something or someONE created for your ultimate satisfaction, your ultimate good, your identity, your value… instead of to the God Who created these things.  As Tim Keller wrote, “The human heart is an idol factory.”

Are you an “accidental idolator?” Do you convince yourself that, in fact, your life DOES consist of the things you possess?  If you possessed MORE, you would be happier… more contented… more fulfilled?

Are you trying to prove Jesus was wrong?  Is the focus of your life on getting more, having more?  Do you realize this is all driven by fear?

The early Israelites bowed before the idol of a golden calf because they were afraid:  The idol gave them a sense of security in something they could see.  Covetousness is a default sin that we resort to when we’re afraid.

When we are very young, we covet because we are afraid we are going to miss out on something fun…something good.  Her bicycle is more fun.

When we are hitting adulthood and middle age, we covet because we are afraid we are going to be thought of as unsuccessful… as a failure in life… as less than we could be.  So, we covet power, and prestige, and wealth.  Our fear is we are not measuring up.

When we get older, we covet because we are afraid, we are not going to have security to last our retirement years, or afraid we will not be able to retire at all!

Covetousness is idolatry, and it demands we possess more, own more, make more money…it becomes our ultimate search for significance and meaning in life.  And at its root is fear.

But the Bible says you are serving an idol… a false god… a golden calf… that can never keep its promise to you.

When you see it for what it truly is, you will stare into the abyss of an empty hope.

The Lord loves a cheerful giver

“…the Lord loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)

When people think of you, does the word “generous” get mentioned?  Are you a generous person by nature?  Now for a moment, though I am a preacher, I don’t want you to think about church offerings.   But in other areas of your life, are you more open-handed or close-fisted?  Do you freely share what is yours, or are you as likely to hoard and cling to the blessings and resources God has given?

This is a very serious question.  Generosity is the mark of a person who is winning the war of selfishness that every person is engaged in.  No one is exempt:  Not a child or preschooler, not a young adult or an octogenarian.  We all do war with selfishness on an ongoing basis at some level.

The only effective weapon to be triumphant in this battle is the weapon of generosity.  Jesus said what we give away in this life we will keep, and what we keep we will lose.  One of the radical changes Jesus brings to our heart at salvation is an orientation to defeat the raging selfishness that lives in us.

So, generosity is more than just a nice character trait.  It is a sign of a person who is winning this war that so many lose.  When we live focused solely on “me” and “mine,” we have lost the battle.  And ironically, the more we keep the smaller we become.

And yes, the matter of generosity impacts what we give to the Lord’s offering.  But it’s more than just a matter of a Sunday decision.  Generosity should affect every dimension of life, from our parenting to our friendships to our work.

It is generosity that brings a rare hilarity and lightness to our lives.  I have never… let me underscore the word… NEVER… met a miserable, generous person.   But I have encountered plenty of miserable, selfish people.

Practice generosity.  Daily.  Give even when it isn’t asked of you.  Give even to someone you may not know.

Be generous, and let God show you how He keeps His Word.

Generosity is a joyful path.  The alternative is a road you don’t want to travel.

Money Matters

Well, of course it does.  What an obvious title for this column.  It matters a great deal in fact.  Without it, we can’t buy food or medicine or clothing or pay our mortgage or rent or utility bills.  Of course it matters.

But for some, it matters far too much.  It is something that supplies us with more than life’s necessities.  It provides us with security and with status and with self-worth.

There is a balance we must strike in our relationship to money.  If we are irresponsible and place too little emphasis on it, we may find ourselves homeless and on the street.

But if we place too much emphasis on it, we find ourselves in the position of worshiping money as an idol.  Those are extremes, I’ll grant you.  But they are both real dangers that some face.

Our money matters.  It matters on earth, of course.  But did you know that your money also matters… in eternity?   Our ability to be generous with what God entrusts to us to manage (“stewardship”) makes an eternal difference.

Author Randy Alcorn wrote,

Giving is a giant lever positioned on the fulcrum of this world, allowing us to move mountains in the next world.  Because we give, eternity will be different—for others as well as for us.

I don’t know what that statement does to you, but it is exciting to me to think that I hold in my hand that which could leverage eternity for someone.  May God help us to always be ready to see the resources He entrusts us with on earth leveraged for eternal use!

Money does matter.

Eternally.

Advent Day 26 – To Those Who Grieve

I write this final blog of Advent 2020 to a select group of people… men, women, and children who are grieving.  Grief and Christmas do not really belong together.  Christmas should be a time of joy, of celebration, of family gatherings and festivities around the Christmas tree.

Yet for many it will not be that.  This year, our nation mourns the hundreds of thousands of dead who passed away from Covid or a Covid related illness.  The world at large mourns many others.  But more specifically, maybe you buried a loved one in the past weeks or months.  The grief is still fresh.  The memories bring a flood of tears to your eyes.

This is my fourth Christmas without my wife by my side.  I still don’t know what to do on Christmas.  I can get lost in my children and my granddarlin’s joy which helps enormously.  Yet, there is still much I must do alone.

The first Christmas was hardest, no doubt.  Pam’s death had just happened in August, and I was still in the early stages of processing her death and my father-in-law’s death which happened not quite two months prior.

Since that time, I have grieved the death of my mother and last year, one like a mother to me in my mother-in-law, Shirley.  Each death had its own particular pain, and each piles on top of the other in seasons like Christmas.

This season, our family passes through our first Christmas without “Mamaw.”  It hasn’t “felt” like Christmas for several years now, meaning it doesn’t feel like Christmas used to feel.  The old homes we visited have been sold and life goes on.  We can’t go backward.

But you press through it.  I promise you, grieving friend, next year will be easier.  And the following easier than that.  As I learned personally, grief is not just something you “get through” or “get over” like a disease.  It is a condition that changes your heart, and you learn to live not just with the pain, but with the fresh grace God gives us to bear it.  We press on.

The added dimension is this.  I have learned to look for something from Christmas that goes beyond sentimentalism, as important as that is.  I have learned to live with the reason the first people to receive the message that a Savior was born experienced: A joy that comes from looking again at Jesus, the reason for the season.  Beholding Him afresh.

And this Christmas, I wish for you the same “great joy!”

“And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!””  (Luke 2:10-14 ESV)

 

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