"Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, . . . They are not
just idle words for you-- they are your life" (Deuteronomy 32:46-47).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Promises Especially for You

"But now, this is what the Lord says--he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. . . . Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you; I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. . . . I will bring your children from the east, and gather you from the west. . . . Everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made’" (Isaiah 43:1, 4-5, 7, NKJV).

Life can be so superficial. We can live in hurry and flurry, and we do, without spending precious moments considering the value of this life we’ve been given. Friend, stop today and consider how good Easter really is for you. Realize that, unmistakably, you are part of God’s dream for his creation. There is a place prepared for you where you will fit in perfectly. You have a lively future, a living hope.

In the passage above, God prophetically announced himself to be Israel’s redeemer, their rescuer–the one who would bring them out of the shame and oppression of a hard life of slavery. As their forefathers in Egypt, they would live as unnamed, unknown, unloved servants of toil and labor at the hand of a hard task-master in Babylon. However, they should not lose heart. Though their sinful rejection of the fatherhood of the God who created them would have to be paid, deliverance was coming.

As much as God had created Adam to be the father of the human race, he had created Israel to father a peculiar people to be his very own. "For I have redeemed you" is a snapshot into the future, a forth-telling of the time when God would, indeed bring his people out of exile in Babylon back to their beloved Jerusalem.

Yet their return to their homeland was to be a sign of the ultimate redemption that would take place at a later time. God himself would send his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to redeem his people out of their bondage in sin and into the precious salvation of present and eternal fellowship with him.

The religious leaders of Israel in the first century led Israel to reject Jesus as their long-awaited, prophesied, and promised Messiah Redeemer. But did that stop God’s plan? No. To the cross Jesus went, battered, bruised, scarred, and crucified. Let the anthem of John ring out through the ages: "For God so love the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

Did Israel’s rejection of Christ disqualify all of the nation for salvation? Hardly. Paul explained: "I say then, have they stumbled that they should fall? Certainly not! But through their fall, to provoke them to jealousy, salvation has come to the Gentiles. Now if their fall is riches for the world, and their failure riches for the Gentiles, how much more their fullness! . . . For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?" (Romans 10:11-12, 15). As a result of Jesus willingly giving his life on the cross, all who trust in him, Jew and Gentile, will be saved.

Here are a few Easter promises especially for you:

You are known by God. God’s message through Isaiah was: "I have summoned you by name." Friend, you are not some anonymous person trudging your way through this world. You may feel like no one knows you or cares for you, but that simply is not true. There is not one moment of your life that has not been lived out under the watchful eyes of your creator God. Put it down in big print and believe it–God knows your name. Jesus said, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." (Luke 12:7). In addition, if belong to Christ by faith, God has numbered you among those who are his special possession for all eternity: "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light" (1 Peter 2:9). Put it down in big print and believe it–God knows you.

You are precious in God's sight. God’s message through Isaiah was: "Since you are precious . . . in my sight." What value do you really place on your own life. Do you feel like your life matters? God does. You are of infinite worth to the One who made you. As a matter of fact, if you did not matter, you wouldn’t be alive. The very fact that you live, breathe, and move means you matter more than you could ever know. So, then, do you treat your life as precious? You should. None of us has the right to treat our bodies haphazardly and hurtfully. Our existence is fragile and for only a time; therefore, we should take good care of ourselves as a sign that we understand our life is not our own, but was given to us by God. Paul said, "He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Timothy 1:9-10). Put it down in big print and believe it–God believes you are precious.

You are honored by God. God’s message through Isaiah was: "Since you are . . . honored in my sight." Think of your life–past, as well as, present. Have you always done what was right in God’s sight? Have you always honored God with your thoughts, words, and actions? How many times have you chosen to please yourself, instead of pleasing God? The fact that God cares for any of us who have turned our backs on him is mindboggling. Yet God has and God does care. That’s what the message of the Bible is: "This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. ‘I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more’" (Hebrews 10:16-17). That covenant was cut on Calvary and sealed at the resurrection. Put it down in big print and believe it–God has honored you.

You are loved by God. God’s message through Isaiah was: "because I love you." The very fact that we live and breath is proof that God loves us. The fact that we are a part of a family is proof that God loves us. We have food, shelter, and clothes to prove that God loves us. However, the greatest proof of God’s love for us is the Cross of Christ. His death paved the way for all people to be forgiven and restored, yet only those who believe and trust by receiving Christ as Lord are forgiven and restored. Hear the message: "We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). Yet, Christ's death is not where the story ends. Three days later Jesus rose from the dead. He truly is alive. Imagine this: the God who made you died for you, and now lives again to empower you to live the life you were created to live, and one day will return to get you, and take you to be with him for all eternity. Put it down in big print and believe it–God loves you.

The apostle John recorded one of the greatest promises Jesus ever spoke: "I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!" (Revelation 1:18). Easter is God's promise to you that he knows you, you are precious to him, he honors you, and he loves you. The death and resurrection of Jesus gives you forgiveness from your past, power for your present, and hope for your future. Trusting Christ as Lord, you have new life, and that life is worth living. So go discover the life God planned for you, and do just that--live it to the fullest!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lift Up Your Head and Be Thankful

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap” (Luke 21:34).

Just days before Jesus was arrested and, subsequently, murdered on the cross his disciples questioned him on how they would be able to recognize when life as they knew it on earth was about to end. The scenario Jesus outlined for certain events that would preclude the end of time included: world-wide religious confusion; national wars and revolutions; natural disasters including earthquakes, famines and pestilences; persecution and betrayal of Christians by family, friend, and foe; targeting of Israel for destruction by other nations; and even cosmic disturbances that shake the heavenly bodies (Luke 21:5-26).

Taking a simple stroll through the state of world affairs with eyes wide-open is alarming and disconcerting. One website that encourages religious tolerance provides information on forty organized religions and faith groups in the world–every group from Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism to the Church of Satan. Christianity, the largest group, consist of some 1500 denominations and para-church ministries along with thousands of independent churches and organizations. One frightening bit of counsel on the site’s homepage encourages visitors to “find a faith group that matches your beliefs.” The straight-forward suggestion is that all religions are equal; moreover, what each and every person believes about life, God, and the after-life are equally accurate, so people should just hook up with a church that believes what they believe. This mindset is not only dangerous, but it clearly explains the presence of world-wide religious confusion.

At present the American military is fighting in Iraq and Afganistan. The Foreign Policy website cites thirty-three conflicts on-going around the world including civil wars and insurgencies. Not counting all-out wars, cities all over the world including in the Unites States, have long been riddled with too many instances of assault and murder. Considering reality and what is reported daily on news stations, is it stretching things at all to say we are a planet at war?

Death tolls are expected to reach into the thousands after the 8.9 strength earthquake that hit Japan on Friday. It is the fifth strongest of eleven quakes recorded in the last 110 years that register at least 8.6 on the Richter Scale, and it happened right on the heals of the quake that struck New Zealand at the end of last month. Four million buildings in Tokyo alone had no electricity shortly after the disaster hit. Thousands of homes and automobiles were destroyed in a matter of hours.

Add to this kind of horror the untold numbers of people suffering from starvation, disease, and AIDS in our world. Tack on the increasing incidents of religious persecution; specifically, the numbers of Christians being arrested, detained, and killed. We cannot help but feel a cautionary check in our heads and hearts when we measure the world’s news against Jesus’ prophetic statements in the Bible, especially in Luke’s gospel. Jesus warned, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

Jesus wanted his first-century disciples and his twenty-first century followers to be prepared for what will befall this planet as the time draws nearer to him bringing history to its glorious culmination. So our Lord said, “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap. . . . Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21:34, 36).

Dissipation is excess amusement, entertainment, self-indulgence, partying, recreation, and self-gratification. Jesus sternly warns people not to let their lives be taken over by these things. A life full of these excesses cannot be centered in Jesus Christ. Drunkenness is being intoxicated to the point that our mental faculties and physical actions are diminished. Alcohol and drugs will certainly put people in this condition. So also will sex, power, and greed. Anxiety is worry, tension, and panic that sets in when we are unrealistically, overly concerned about past, present, or future events. This kind of angst creeps in and steals our ability to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, our hearts committed to him and his will, and our hope securely centered in his promise of eternal life.

Christian, you have much to make you “lift up your head” toward heaven. Because you have received Christ as Lord and Savior, do not allow anything to steal your attention from Christ. Serve him to the bitter end. Jesus died on the cross in your place to pay your penalty for your sins, and three days later he rose from the dead. Today, he sits at the right hand of the throne of God, the Father. One day soon, in an instant, whether you are dead or still alive, he himself will come for you. All who truly belong to Jesus through faith will be sucked off of this planet as in a vacuum–raptured, caught up with him in the air–where we will be with him forever.

There you will be, safely tucked away, during the great tribulation when those who have rejected God's great gift of salvation are left on this earth to suffer the worst atrocities, horror, and evil every known because God is pouring out his wrath upon the earth. Be thankful. You’ll be safe with Christ when he destroys the armies that descend on Jerusalem at the Battle of Armageddon, when he throws the Antichrist and False Prophet into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, and when he collects those saved during the tribulation and destroys the unsaved. Be thankful. You’ll see Jesus throw Satan in the abyss and lock him up for a thousand years. During the 1000-year millennial reign, you’ll be with Christ. Be thankful. When Satan is let out of the abyss for one last rampage of self-indulgence, you’ll see Jesus throw him into hell where he will stay forever. Be thankful.

When Jesus somehow hides his heavenly army and family of believers in another dimension of time and space, you will be there to see him do as John Phillips described, “detonate the earth” (Exploring Proverbs. Volume 1. New Jersey: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc., 1995, page 466). Heaven and earth as we know it will be destroyed in a great cataclysmic fire. And after the smoke clears, somewhere on the banks of eternity Jesus will appear sitting on a great white throne. The unsaved, wicked, and evil dead will be raised, judged, sentenced, and damned to hell for all eternity.
Finally, a new heaven and new earth will be come into view and the great words of Revelation 21:3-5 will become reality: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. they will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’” Mark it down in big bold letters–we, who are truly saved by faith in Christ, will be there with him forever and ever. So, my Christian friend, don't let any earthly amusement, addiction, or anxiety steal your obedience to Jesus Christ. Lift up your head to heaven and be thankful.

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Impact of a Good Soldier's Legacy

“They charge like warriors; they scale walls like soldiers. They all march in line, not swerving from their course” (Joel 2:7).

In today’s news, we read that Frank Buckles, the last surviving U. S. veteran of World War I, died peacefully in his sleep yesterday, February 27, 2011, at his home in West Virginia. He was 110 years old. Born in Missouri in 1901, Buckles went from one recruiting station to another after the war broke out trying to join the military and defend his country. Finally, an army recruiter signed him up in August 1917 even though he was only 16 years old and sent him overseas to serve as an ambulance driver. During World War II, Buckles was on business in the Philippines when he was captured by the Japanese. He spent 42 months in prison camps as a civilian POW before being released. Recently, Buckles said in an interview, “I knew there'd be only one (survivor) one day. I didn't think it would be me” (msnbc.com news services, 2/28/2011).

This brave old soldier’s life should rightly be honored by all. His love for America caused him to lie about his age to get into the battle that was coined “the war to end all wars.” Being the last World War I survivor is a powerful reminder to all of us that it really does matter how our lives end; especially, the memory that we leave behind. Buckles left an impressive legacy of love and selfless service to his country.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we could learn a lot from Buckles’s story if we’d pay attention. We represent America too, but we are also soldiers and ambassadors of another country called the Kingdom of God. Our war is spiritual in nature with the goal of seeing as many people out of this world receive God’s gracious gift of salvation through faith in Christ and spend their lives in service to him. Our commanding officer, Jesus, has charged us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is our supreme duty and privilege as soldiers of heaven’s kingdom. We should perform our duty with bravery and valor.

Our status as Christ’s representatives is unmistakable: “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20). Since we represent the King of this heavenly kingdom, it is our duty to image his character and speak his message with the utmost integrity and honor. The apostle Paul represented his Lord with great poise and commitment and left a great challenge for every Christian when he said, “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20).

All of us will one day come to end of our life. Our legacies will already be formed and will live on in unalterable shape. In other words, they will be what they are whether good or bad, positive or negative, helpful or hurtful. Therefore, what we do right now with each day matters more than we imagine. Our moments of prayer and Bible study are indispensable. Our extended sessions of silence and solitude before God listening for his instruction are life-altering. Our experiences of worship, fellowship, and service can impact heaven’s kingdom for good. When we faithfully and obediently herald the message of the gospel, our efforts carry the potential to reflect our Lord’s own life and work.

Will it be said of you that you charged forward like a warrior for Jesus? Will your legacy include news of you scaling walls of opposition like a soldier? Will you be remembered for never swerving off the course of strong and steady faith in God? Let these words from an old soldier rally your heart: “Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:3).

Paul died a heroic, old soldier in Christ’s army. Among his last words to his protege, Timothy, are some I definitely want to be able to say with assurance at the close of my life: “The time has come for my departure. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8). Friend, live the Christian life with truth and honor; serve the Lord Jesus with passion and obedience; fight the war of faith with tenacity and hope–it matters that you do this; it matters more than you know.

Prayer: Father in Heaven, thank you for the example in the Bible of others who have lived and served you faithfully. These valiant old soldiers are an inspiration to me to follow in their footsteps. I do want to give my life in service to Jesus Christ who gave his life for me. Strengthen me in every way necessary to follow through. Grant me courage, boldness, endurance, desire, and wisdom to fulfill your will for my life, to leave a lasting legacy of meaningful Christian service, and then, when my life is over here on earth, receive me into your presence in heaven where I shall serve you with equal passion for all eternity. In Jesus' name, amen.

Monday, February 21, 2011

It Should Have Been Me!

"With this he (Pilate) went out again to the Jews and said, 'I find no basis for a charge against him (Jesus). But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release 'the king of the Jews'?' They shouted back, 'No, not him! Give us Barabbas!'" (John 19:38-40, NIV).

The biblical term atonement, though it does not get much attention from the average contemporary churchgoer, is critically important to understanding the true meaning of the relationship of the death of Christ to the promise of heaven. In the original language of the Old Testament, atonement is the word kaphar, found some eighty times, meaning to cancel, to cleanse, to forgive, to pardon, to pitch or purge away, to put off, to reconcile. Atonement appears once in the New Testament in Romans 5:11 where it carries the meaning of reconciliation: "We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement" (KJV).

Furthermore, we need the biblical concept of substitution to understand the connection between the death of Christ and the promise of heaven. The sacrificial system of the Old Testament was based on an animal being killed or punished in the place of a person who was guilty of sin. For example: "Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. . . . He is to lay both on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites--all their sins--and put them on the goat's head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place" (Leviticus 16:11, 21-22). In the first case, the bull's life was substituted for the life of the sinning person or people, and, in the second case, the goat became the scapegoat that bore upon himself the sins of the people and carried them away.

God told Abraham to take his first-born son, Isaac, up on a mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Abraham immediately went about the preparations to obey. On the way to the mountain, Isaac recognized that an offering was about to be made, saw the wood for the burnt offering, but puzzled over the absence of a lamb to kill as the sacrifice. When he asked his father why there was no lamb, Abraham said, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son" (Genesis 22:8). On the mountain, Abraham built the wooden altar, tied up his son, and laid the boy on the altar. When Abraham was about to kill his son with a knife, God, being fully satisfied with his display of faith, stopped him. Then "Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son" (Genesis 22:13). In this case, the ram's life was substituted for the life of Aaron.

The ultimate sacrifice for sins is prophesied in the Old Testament. At least 700 years beforehand, God foretold of one man's sacrifice for all men's sins: "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. but he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us preace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed" (Isaiah 53:4-6). This prophesy was fulfilled in the New Testament in the person of Jesus Christ: "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Peter 2:24-25). 

Paul said, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). So Jesus Christ bore our sins and took our punishment upon himself as our substitute so that we could be forgiven and receive new life (eternal life). Through his punishment and death on the cross, Jesus was literally and is lastingly the substitute for every man, woman, boy, and girl who will believe and trust their whole lives to Him by faith. Jesus is our atonement through whom we have received atonement: through Christ, the believer's multitude of sins is pitched away, purged out, and put off; the believer's debt of sin is forgiven; the believer's sin-stained life is cleansed; the believer's promised sentence of death is cancelled and pardoned; and the believer is reconciled to God.

All believers should feel the full impact of what it means that Jesus substituted Himself for them so they could receive atonement for their sins. Perhaps if we consider the one person who knew this reality up-close-and-personal we might feel a greater respect and thankfulness. Jesus was being tried by Pilate for false charges. The Jewish crowd was unrelenting in their demand for His execution. After interrogating his prisoner, Pilate found no basis for the charges brought against Jesus and wanted to have Him released.

The custom was to release one Jewish prisoner during Passover week as an act of goodwill by the Roman government. Pilate offered to set Jesus free; however, the Jewish crowd demanded that a convicted criminal named Barabbas be released instead of Jesus. Three times Pilate tried to get the crowd to choose Jesus, but each time they demanded Jesus to be crucified. Now, crawl into the skin of Barabbas as his chains are taken off and he walks by, perhaps even brushing shoulders with Jesus, the innocent man who would be his substitute in death.

Picture yourself as Barabbas, the guilty murderer, as he melts into the hostile crowd and walks through the streets of Jerusalem watching Jesus carrying His own cross barely alive from the horrific beating that should have been yours to endure. From atop Calvary's hill, imagine yourself as Barabbas hearing the scream of horrow as nails are driven into His hands that should have been your hands, and into His feet that should have been your feet.

See Jesus hoisted up on the cross that should have been your cross, suffering the shame that should have been your shame, bearing the blame that should have been your blame, dying the death that should have been your death. There you are standing in the skin of Barabbas just as guilty as Barabbas. Have you got the picture in bright vivid color firmly planted in your mind's eye? Now, say these words outloud that most certainly rang out so loudly in Barabbas's mind that he covered his ears to stop the repeating, piercing, deafening cadence: "IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME!; IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME!; IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN ME! . . ."