The Holiest of Holidays

All holidays have purpose and value.  But not all holidays are created equal.  Some are not only holidays, some are holy-days.  Easter and Christmas are certainly two significant holy-days.  But the holiest of holy-days is rarely esteemed—Good Friday.

Our culture pays little attention to this holy-day.  And if we take our cues and our values from it, Good Friday will most likely come and go with little or no fanfare.  But let’s not overlook the mystery and wonder of this holiest of days this year!

I don’t believe it would be an overstatement to propose that the overarching message of the Bible is more profoundly illustrated on Good Friday than on any other day in human history!  This is not to take away from Christmas or Easter, but rather to see how these holy-days find their ultimate explanation in Good Friday.

I would also suggest that there is no topic known to us more poignant nor profound than Soteriology—the study of God’s gracious gift of salvation from our sin, and how Jesus Christ purchased it for us.  The Bible teaches this gracious gift will be the incomparable, inexplicable, and inexhaustible focal point of every man, woman, boy and girl who will spend the coming ages in the heavenly realms with Christ Jesus!

Accordingly, the mystery of the Son of God’s death on a cross, should be the most fascinating and compelling topic for our consideration in our earthly realm as well!  After all, there is only one Person in history who was so significant that our ancestors devised our calendar around His brief earthly pilgrimage.  And there is no other event in history so disturbing—and yet so encouraging, as Christ’s untimely and unjust death on a cross.

But don’t be mistaken.  Jesus didn’t die because Judas betrayed Him.  Jesus wasn’t condemned because the Jewish leaders lied about Him.  Jesus wasn’t sentenced to death because Pilate was a coward.  Jesus wasn’t killed by Roman soldiers.  Jesus didn’t die because He was powerless to save Himself.PassionOfTheChrist_2004_02

It was our sin—and God’s justice, that put Jesus on that cross to die…

The Bible makes it clear that there is no one righteous before God, for all of us have sinned and fallen short of our Creator’s expectation for us.  God’s Word also makes it plain: the wages of our sin is death.  Physical death, yes.  But far worse, spiritual death as well.  We understand that physical death occurs when our spirit is separated from our bodies.  Spiritual death, the second death, is when our spirit is separated from its Creator—forever. The consequence of our sin against our Creator is both physical and spiritual death.

Because God is just, someone had to pay the consequences of our sin.  Even though Jesus had never committed any sin (thoughts, words or deeds) He bore our sins, and He took our punishment for them.  He died because of us.  He died for us.  He died in place of us.  But there’s much more.

It was our sin—and God’s love, that put Jesus on that cross to die…

The Bible makes it equally clear that God the Father so loved us, that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever would believe on Him would not have to die, but would have eternal life instead.  God’s Word also tells us that His Son Jesus so loved us, that He willingly laid down His life for us.

So on Good Friday, two thousand years ago, God’s grace was gloriously provided by Jesus’ death on a cross!  He who was rich became poor so that we through His poverty might become rich!  He who had no experience with sin became sin for us so that through Him we might gain the sinlessness of God!

God’s justice was perfectly satisfied on Good Friday.  God’s love was perfectly demonstrated on Good Friday.  God’s grace is freely offered to you because of Good Friday!  That is the Good News of Good Friday!  And because Jesus conquered death on Resurrection Day, if you will have faith in God’s grace, you too will be resurrected one day to marvel at the magnitude of His grace forever!  No wonder the holiest of holy-days has come to be known as Good Friday!

The Phenomenal Potential of Planting

oak-acorns oaktreeslookingupNot long ago I was cleaning our pickup truck when I found an acorn in the otherwise empty bed.  Since I couldn’t remember parking under any trees, I wondered how it got there.  I started to throw it out, but for some reason dropped it in my pocket instead.

As I emptied my pockets at the end of the day, out came my lowly acorn; and the reason I couldn’t throw it away.  What at first seemed small and insignificant, actually has great potential!  Given enough time and reasonable conditions, that tiny acorn could produce a vast forest of majestic oak trees!  And since there are lots of beautiful oak trees around here, we intend to plant this one where there aren’t many.  We will carry it 1,500 miles west to the often tree-less soil where I grew up.

I’m convinced God put that acorn in my truck for a reason.  In fact I even carry it in my pocket from time to time as a reminder.  That acorn has become symbolic of the life-changing Gospel seed we carry.  While Jesus may have become ordinary to us, His seed can still produce extraordinary results when planted in reasonable conditions!

Knowing this to be true, we intend to carry the Gospel to Colorado to plant a vibrant, new church where there are remarkably few.  In contrast to its scenic vistas, Colorado’s spiritual landscape is largely barren.  We have found many people there who are thirsty for hope, purpose, and peace.  Sadly, the spiritual oasis they see in the distance often ends up being a mirage.  But with God’s help, and with your partnership, we intend to change that!

There are some important ways that you can partner with us in beautifying the spiritual landscape of Colorado.  First, we need people who will pray for us.  Church planting is a supernatural task that requires supernatural enablement.   Second, we need people who will invest financial support in our ministry.  Since time is short, we want to be able to focus our time and energy on reaching the unreached multitudes.  Lastly, we need people who will go with us to Colorado to help us make disciples of Jesus who will eventually become our new church!

If you would like to know more about what we are doing, and how you can be involved with us, we encourage you to visit our website: www.makelovegrow.co or if you prefer, give us a call.  We pray God will lead you to partner with us in planting a new, vibrant church in Northeastern Colorado!

A Chinese proverb has wisely noted, “The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago.  The next best time is now.”  So, whether planting a tree or a church, now is the time to plant!  And just like one tree can produce a phenomenal forest, with a touch from God just one church can produce a landscape that is blooming with verdant, new churches!

What Can We Know?

Hope series cover

One hundred and seventy years ago today marks the day that came to be known to many as “The Great Disappointment.”

William Miller was a well-known Baptist preacher and student of Bible prophecy.  After years of research, he concluded that Christ would return sometime between March 21, 1843 and March 21, 1844.  When that time period passed, further study convinced him and another preacher that the wrong Jewish calendar had been used and a new date was proposed, October 22, 1844.

The support for this prediction was compelling enough that up to 100,000 followers gathered in groups to await Christ’s return on that day.  When midnight passed without Christ’s return, most of the followers gave up their hopes and left; some even gave up their faith.

Fast forward one hundred and forty years or so.   Edgar C. Whisenant, a former NASA engineer and student of Bible prophecy predicted that the Rapture would occur sometime between September 11 and September 13, 1988.  His books, “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988” and “On Borrowed Time” were very popular and hundreds of thousands of them were published and distributed.

Whisenant was so convinced of his research that he was quoted as saying, “Only if the Bible is in error am I wrong…” and “If… I could gamble with my life, I would stake my life on [my predictions].”

Since many of my Christian friends were convinced of his compelling arguments and conclusion, I too read “88 Reasons.”  While his research was flawed,  at least many complacent Christians began to witness and give as never before!

When his prediction failed to come to pass, Whisenant wrote more books with revised predictions for the Rapture specifying dates in 1989, 1993, 1994, and even as late as 1997.  Not surprisingly, his subsequent books received little attention.

Sadly, predictions like these are common.  It’s been well documented that those who will not learn from history will be condemned to repeat it.  Additionally, many well meaning Bible students over the years have made the error of focusing on certain scripture passages while ignoring or minimizing “the whole counsel of God.”

For instance, Jesus himself made it crystal clear in Matthew 24:36, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but My Father only.”  Nevertheless, in verses 32-35 Jesus also warns that we can know “the season” of His return!  Therefore, His subsequent warning to “keep watch” for His return are especially relevant in light of the many Bible prophecies that continue to be fulfilled!

While the sincere predictions of Bible students like Miller and Whisenant never materialized, we would be remiss to miss another clear warning in Matthew 24:44, “Therefore, you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”

What we can know for sure boils down to this; each passing day brings us one day closer to Christ’s return.  Be ready!

Why A Shepherd?

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“The LORD is my shepherd…  So begins one of the most loved, and best known passages in all of the Bible.  True to the saying, “it takes one to know one,” Psalm 23 was written about 3,000 years ago by a shepherd who later became a king, David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem.

After David’s bold opening declaration, he makes three statements expressing his complete trust in the LORD as his shepherd.  “I shall not want” summarizes David’s confidence in the LORD’s ability to provide for his every need.  “I will fear no evil” demonstrates his trust in the LORD to protect him, even in the darkest days of his life.  “I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever,” articulates David’s faith that even in death, his Shepherd will care for him throughout eternity!

This beautiful psalm not only talks about David’s Shepherd, it talks to his Shepherd as well!  In verses 2-3, David talks about all his Shepherd does for him and why.  In verse 4 the pronouns shift from “He” to “You” and David now speaks to his Shepherd in a written prayer.  David’s confidence in facing death is in his Shepherd’s presence and protection.  In verse 5 he speaks affectionately of the LORD’s gracious provisions, even in the presence of his enemies.  Finally, in verse 6 David concludes his thoughts by speaking about his Shepherd’s care “all the days of my life” and then even after his days come to an end and “forever” begins.

This poignant psalm is rich with word pictures!  It starts with a Shepherd, and his flock of sheep, one of whom is King David himself.  It pictures them lying down in green pastures and drinking from still waters.  It paints sheep following the Shepherd on paths of righteousness and through the valley of the shadow of death.  It draws comfort from a shepherd’s rod and his staff.  It portrays a bountiful banquet table prepared in the presence of enemies.  It visualizes the blessedness of an anointed head and a cup running over.  It concludes with the (obviously magnificent) house of the LORD in heaven.

This psalm is so rich I have assigned aspiring preachers the task of writing multiple messages from this psalm, each one focusing on a unique truth, promise, principle, viewpoint, illustration or challenge contained within it.  Though they would often complain about my assignment, invariably these students of God’s Word would fall deeper in love with Psalm 23 with each new message they wrote.

In my earlier years I wondered how a psalm with six verses and a little over one hundred words could be so special to so many people.  But over the last twenty years I have studied it, memorized it, preached it and have recited it in so many difficult occasions, and in countless places.  Its ability to move me and so many others is no longer mysterious!  After all, like King David, we too are sheep in desperate need of a trustworthy Shepherd!

Cheer Up!

 

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The day started out like every other day he could remember.  As soon as he felt the warm rays of the sun strike his face, he pulled himself up from his makeshift bed on the side of the road.  Thankfully, it hadn’t rained during the night and the temperatures were still manageable this time of the year.  Of course, this good fortune would change all too soon.

He shook the dust off his motley robe, took his cup and placed his last two coins in it.  “Alms for the poor?” he constantly pleaded, as he rattled the coins in his cup.

Thankfully, an occasional passerby would reward his begging with another small coin.  Maybe he would have enough by day’s end to buy some stale bread to temporarily appease the constant gnawing in his stomach.

He couldn’t help that he was poor, as no one would hire him to work.  After all, what kind of work could a blind man do?  It appeared painfully obvious to him and everyone else that his life’s work would amount to nothing but begging.

While hope was normally a thought that rarely crossed his mind, he had recently heard some amazing stories of sick people being healed, cripples walking, deaf hearing, and yes, even blind people seeing!  Not surprisingly, hope was not only crossing his mind these days, hope was blazing a major pathway through it!  Could this be the day he received infinitely more than a few coins; his sight, his life?

His dreams were interrupted when he heard a large crowd coming his way.  His curiosity piqued, he stopped begging for alms, and started begging for information.  Thankfully, a passerby had  mercy on him and responded, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.”  Could it be true that Hope was within reach?  But how could he speak to Him since He was surrounded by such a large crowd?

He had no recourse but to shout above the noise of the crowd, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Unfortunately, some within the crowd heard him and rebuked him for his outburst and demanded he be quiet.  But they didn’t understand that this, no He, was his only hope for sight; for life!  So he shouted even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Hope heard and Hope stopped!  Those who had just chided him for his annoying shouts, now encouraged him, “Cheer up!  He’s calling you!”  Bartimaeus threw off his cloak, jumped to his feet and felt his way to Hope.

He sensed His presence even before he heard His question, “What do you want me to do for you?”  They were unfamiliar words to him, yet more exhilarating than anyone could possibly imagine!  Trembling, knowing the audacity it took for a beggar to ask such a thing of a King, the words spilled out anyway, “I want to see.”

“Go,” He simply said, “your faith has healed you.”  Immediately, he saw Hope, and his life reborn!

Eyes That See

 

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What do you see when you look at someone?  I was told recently that one of the first things that people notice about you is your shoes.  Maybe, but I would think it might depend on what is important to you.

Of course, a shoe salesperson would probably notice our shoes.  But, a hair stylist would likely notice our hair.  An athlete would notice our muscles.  An optometrist would notice our glasses or contacts.  A clothing salesperson would notice our clothes.  A dental hygienist would notice our teeth.  A car dealer would notice our car.  A Realtor would notice our house.  You get the idea!

But there is more to what we see.  Men would notice particular characteristics about men, and different attributes about ladies.  Conversely, ladies would notice certain characteristics about ladies, and different qualities about men.  Our age could very likely cause us to notice unique characteristics in the people we see.  But is there still more?

I remember getting on an elevator at the hospital one day with a family member of someone having surgery.  After we exited, the family member told me that she was fascinated about how I stood in an elevator full of people.  Why?  Because she was in the elevator business!

In case you are wondering if I was standing on my head, I wasn’t.  But, I was standing facing the people in the elevator rather than facing the door!  I’m pretty sure I don’t normally do that, and that I had no particular reason to stand facing the people that day, it just turned out that way and I didn’t give it a thought.

This family member went on to say that I had validated the research of people in the elevator business.  They had found that only people from a handful of careers (preachers was one of them) would be comfortable facing people in the close confines of an elevator!  Accordingly, the inside of elevator doors should look as good as possible!

But we may be seeing just the tip of the iceberg of what and how we see!  Do you have eyes that see what Jesus saw?  Did Jesus notice what kind of sandals people wore?  Or, how they styled their hair?  Or, what kind of clothes they had on?  Or, how nice their teeth were?  Or, what breed of donkey they were riding?

I’ve noticed Jesus saw at least a couple of things that I often miss.  Jesus had eyes that saw when people were harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36).  Wow, what does that look like?  Would I even notice that if I was looking for it?

Jesus also had eyes to see faith (Mark 2:5).  We often think faith is an internal, invisible quality.  Yet when we read about the people in the “faith chapter” of the Bible, Hebrews 11, we see that their faith obeyed, offered, pleased, sacrificed, built, left, blessed, spoke, worked and so much more!  Their actions made their faith visible.  Do you see what Jesus sees?

Love Well, Die Well

mary at the cross

It was an anonymous poem, originally written in Latin sometime during the Middle Ages.  Many years later it was translated into German, and later into English.  The tune associated with this poem was originally used as a love song, attributed to Hans Leo Hassler in 1601.  J. S. Bach harmonized the song in its present form in 1729.  This poem and tune combination eventually found its way into English hymnals entitled, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded”  taken from the first line of the first stanza. While the hymn as we know it has only three verses, the original poem consists of eleven stanzas.

Because the third and last stanza found in our hymnals has always moved me deeply, I have memorized it and have incorporated it into my prayer life.  However, this powerful prayer becomes even more significant when it is considered in its context with the rest of the original poem.  While I have memorized only the second stanza below, what follows is the last seven stanzas of the original poem.

 

My burden in Thy Passion, Lord, Thou hast borne for me,

For it was my transgression which brought this woe on Thee.

I cast me down before Thee, wrath were my rightful lot;

Have mercy, I implore Thee; Redeemer, spurn me not!

 

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,

For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?

O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,

Lord, let me never, never, outlive my love to Thee.

 

My shepherd, now receive me, my Guardian, own me Thine.

Great blessings Thou didst give me, O source of gifts divine.

Thy lips have often fed me with words of truth and love;

Thy Spirit oft hath led me to heavenly joys above.

 

Here I will stand beside Thee, from Thee I will not part;

O Savior, do not chide me!  When breaks Thy loving heart.

When soul and body languish in death’s cold, cruel grasp,

Then, in Thy deepest anguish, Thee in mine arms I’ll clasp.

 

The joy can never be spoken, above all joys beside,

When in Thy body broken I thus with safety hide.

O Lord of Life, desiring Thy glory now to see,

Beside Thy cross expiring, I’d breathe my soul to Thee.

 

My Savior, be Thou near me when death is at my door,

Then let Thy presence cheer me, forsake me nevermore!

When soul and body languish, oh, leave me not alone,

But take away mine anguish by virtue of Thine own!

 

Be Thou my consolation, my shield when I must die;

Remind me of Thy passion when my last hour draws nigh.

Mine eyes shall then behold Thee, upon Thy cross shall dwell,

My heart by faith enfolds Thee, who dieth thus dies well.

What’s It Worth?

Jesus writing in the dirt 

              When you think of Jesus, what picture comes to your mind?  Around Christmastime, you may see Him as a baby lying in a manger.  If it’s Easter season, you will probably picture Him suffering on a cross.  But what about the rest of the year?

              When you think of Jesus, you might picture Him as a serious Bible scholar refuting the religious hypocrites of the day.  Or it could be a portrait of Him blessing the children who were drawn to Him because of His obvious interest in them. 

              When you think of Jesus, you may see Him touching an unclean man with leprosy and forever taking away his dreaded disease.  Or you might picture Him making mud with His saliva and rubbing it on a blind man’s eyes that are about to see for the first time!

              When you think of Jesus, you may see Him feeding a multitude of many thousands with nothing more than a few pieces of bread and a couple of small fish.  Or you could picture Him calming a storm, walking on water, and even allowing Peter to do the same!

              When you think of Jesus, you may see Him cursing a fig tree, or cleansing the temple of its corruption.  Or you might see Him calling up to a short tax collector who has climbed a sycamore tree just to get a glimpse of Him.

              When you think of Jesus, you might picture Him healing Peter’s mother-in-law, paying his taxes or washing his feet.  Or you could see Him forgiving the sin of a woman caught in adultery, or replacing the ear of an enemy servant that a zealous disciple had foolishly cut off.

              When you think of Jesus, you could see Him casting out demons and sending them to the abyss.  Or you might picture Him bringing a widow’s dead son, or a ruler’s dead daughter, or a beloved dead friend back to life!  

              When you think of Jesus, all these pictures of Him have worth.  However, these pictures are black and white and not color; they are poorly focused and not sharp; they are low resolution and not high definition.  The best pictures of Jesus are the ones that predate, or follow His extremely short stay here on earth! 

              We do ourselves a significant disservice when we allow our portrait of Jesus to be framed by His brief earthly pilgrimage.  Those pictures are outdated.  Yes, He was God then, but His glory was mostly invisible to the masses.  They saw His humanity but were generally blind to His divinity.  I fear we see Jesus the same way; to our own undoing.

              Have you seen word pictures of Jesus as He is today?  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a focused, high definition, color picture of Jesus, in all of His present majesty and glory, is worth at least a million!  More appropriately, an accurate picture of Jesus is worth our life, our all and our best! 

This Extraordinary Work

OutdoorRevival

Christianity was waning in the late 1700’s.  The growing prosperity of the American frontier was making it easy for settlers to rely on themselves and to forget God.  Thankfully, God hadn’t forgotten them!

It all started when God stirred the heart of Barton Warren Stone, pastor of Cane Ridge Presbyterian Church in northern Kentucky.  He decided to invite local pastors and congregations to participate in their annual “Sacramental Communion” event, a weekend of preaching, fellowship and worship.  Once Christians from neighboring states heard about this meeting, many people from southern Ohio and northern Tennessee also gathered there.

On the first day of the event, Friday, August 6, 1801, as thousands of Christians began to pour into this rural community amidst a downpour of rain, the Cane Ridge Revival was born.

In preparation for Sunday’s communion service, Friday and Saturday was meant to be observed with solemnity, prayer and fasting.  Yet soon large numbers of people came under conviction and began to weep, faint, and shriek as God began to revive His people.

Using wagons, fallen trees, or tree stumps as platforms, many preachers, at multiple locations within the camp would passionately speak for God to those in attendance.  It was said that people of all ages and denominations, male and female, rich and poor, whites and blacks, those for the meetings and those against them, would fall to the ground as God’s presence, and the conviction for their sin overwhelmed them.

Colonel Robert Patterson, a well-known statesman of Kentucky, described the revival this way.  “In order to give you a more just conception of it, suppose so large a congregation assembled in the woods, ministers preaching day and night; the camp illuminated with candles, on trees, at wagons, and at the tent; persons falling down, and carried out of the crowd, by those next to them, and taken to some convenient place, where prayer is made for them, some Psalm or Hymn, suitable for the occasion, sung.  If they speak, what they say is attended to, being very solemn and affecting – many are struck under such exhortations…Now suppose 20 of these groups around; some rejoicing, and great solemnity on every countenance, and you will form some imperfect idea of the extraordinary work!”

Up to twenty-five thousand people eventually attended the Cane Ridge Revival.  It continued on for many days and came to be considered the largest and most influential meeting of our nation’s Second Great Awakening.  It was estimated that as many as three thousand souls were converted in that meeting.  Accordingly, some observers came to call it “America’s Pentecost.”

Camp meetings like the Cane Ridge Revival continued on for several years.  By 1811 it was estimated that as many as one-third of all Americans attended at least one such revival meeting!

Two-hundred and some years later, Christianity is waning once again.  Most people in America are relying on themselves and have turned their backs on God.  Has God turned His back on us?  Another Great Awakening is long overdue!

A Promise

promiseOfTheDay

They were desperate.  Their funds had been depleted and their hopes for keeping the ministry alive had been dashed.  They had prayed, but God had not answered.  What were they going to do?

Not surprisingly, they were heart-broken and despondent.  So much blood, sweat and tears had been poured into this ministry through many years, and by many servants of the Lord.  Evidently God’s blessing had been snatched away from them and their work.

So they began the process of shutting down the ministry.  Nevertheless, a few painful days later, they received the glorious news that a promise had been made from thousands of miles away, that their financial needs would be met in full by a stranger!  Needless to say their weeping was replaced with rejoicing!

Though the money would take several days to reach their account, they eagerly began to make preparations to reopen the ministry.  But even before the money arrived, a word from the Lord came.  One of the ministry leaders received a soul-searching revelation he was to share with the entire ministry team.

“Brothers, God has shown me that we have committed a grievous sin.  We prayed to God to meet our needs.  But when we didn’t see Him answer, we lost our faith and our joy.  Yet, just because a person thousands of miles away, a stranger we did not know, promised us the funds we needed, we rejoiced!  We believed the promise of a stranger, and we trusted him to be faithful to his word.  But a promise is only as good as the one who makes it.”

“Now then, we have a Heavenly Father and a Good Shepherd, who we know to be totally faithful and true.  He is no stranger to us, and He has on so many occasions provided for our every need.  And though He has made so many promises to us in His Word, He has never failed to keep even the smallest one of them.”

“How it grieves the gracious heart of our faithful Savior, that we would believe in and rejoice in the promise of a stranger from thousands of miles away, and yet not trust and rejoice in Him?  Has He not promised, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’?  Has He not proved Himself faithful countless times in that promise, ‘He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it’?  Surely the promises of God are infinitely more trustworthy than the promises of man!”

These leaders humbly received this word from the Lord and repented of their sins of unbelief.    Now, will this story compel me to do the same?  After all, His promises and His faithfulness always have, and always will prove worthy of regular and radical trust in Him!  A promise is as good as the One who makes it.