Monday, July 30, 2012

At His Disposal

A few years ago I spent three weeks in another country as a Bible teacher. It was the most demanding trip I’ve ever taken. I spoke over 20 times in 17 days, taught a two-week graduate course, preached on Sundays, delivered a commencement address, and presided over a funeral. In the evening I tried to write a discipleship course for church back home.

The family I stayed with were very busy, too, so I didn’t see much of them. My emails to my wife didn’t go through (I found out later), and I was not receiving any she wrote to me. I hovered on the edge of illness most of the time. At night I had trouble getting to sleep and was beset with nightmares when I did. I became exhausted, lonely, and somewhat depressed.

I think my ministry was a blessing to people, but it became an ordeal for me personally. In only three weeks my perspective became skewed, and I honestly wondered if I was going to make it home.

In my private moments, when I struggled the most, I came up with a phrase that I prayed to the Lord over and over. “I’m at Your disposal.”

Friday, July 27, 2012

First Sight

What must it have been like for the newborn Baby Jesus to open His eyes for the first time? Newborns' eyes work just fine, but it takes a while before their brains can process what they see.

But would that have been true for Jesus? When the eternal Son of God opened His eyes as a baby, did He see the colors and lights, the shapes and shadows of the world He created? Was it beautiful or disappointing? More like an impressionist painting or HD television?

What did the newborn think and feel as He saw for the first time with human eyes this planet He had created, now groaning in its fallen agony?

But there was another “first time” when Jesus opened His eyes, and for me it is even more amazing to think about. What must it have been like for the Savior to open His eyes again after three dead, sightless days in the grave?

When He stepped out of that tomb, did He see the glory of the broken creation made new, the future He guaranteed by His sacrifice and victory?

And then that makes me remember how His resurrection triumph carries you and me along in its wake. John reveals Him as “the firstborn of the dead” (Rev. 1:5). “Firstborn” means He is first in priority and position, the first of many to come.

It’s true that when Christians die, they go immediately into the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). But that’s not the final glory. Like our Savior, one day we will open our long-dead physical eyes again, and the world's transformation, like our own, will remind us why we love Him so.

The first time He opened His eyes they were the eyes of earth’s weakest and most vulnerable creatures—a newborn baby. The second “first time” He opened His eyes, He was the King, Conqueror of death, hell, and sin.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Colorado Theater Murders - What Jesus Says

We’ve all been horrified by the shooting last Friday in the movie theater at Aurora, Colorado. Twelve people were murdered, and 58 others were wounded. The gunman, who is now in custody, was heavily armed with a semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol.

How can any of us make sense out of such brutality? Evil exists. Many of America’s institutions seem to have given up any belief in right and wrong, and then something terrible happens and those same institutions are left stammering about gun control or blaming political opponents.  

 We who trust the Bible believe that Almighty God permits and even utilizes evil for His own purposes—His glory and the good of His people. We may have a hard time accepting this, let alone understanding it, but the Lord does not feel the need to explain Himself.

In times like these, perhaps the best course for us Christians is to pray for the hurting, to treat others with kindness, and to share the gospel.

Since this is a blog about “admiring Christ,” I have no desire to offer political commentary. But what, if anything, does Christ have to say about mass murder? That seems to be a fair question.

Jesus did speak about mass murder.  A group of people approached Jesus to tell Him how Pilate, the Roman governor, had murdered some Galileans who were worshiping  in Jerusalem. For reasons unknown to history, Pilate had these worshipers  killed and their blood was taken and mixed with the blood of their animal sacrifices.  

Jesus’ comments might shock us. Because He really did not address the question of why God would permit this kind of evil. Here’s the whole passage, from Luke’s gospel:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-3).
Notice how Jesus responded. First, He defused any thought that the folks killed were worse sinners than anyone else. But then the Savior’s main point: unless you repent, you will all perish. As terrible as a mass murder is, to die without Christ, to die without repenting of your sins and trusting Him as Savior, is infinitely more terrible.

Christ’s message in the wake of mass murder is to warn people to prepare for eternity. Turn to Jesus, and the sting of death (even at the hands of a murderer) is removed.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Thank You for Your Contribution!

I was once asked to share the gospel at a gathering of people mostly unknown to me. The Christians who invited me wanted their unchurched friends and family who were attending to hear about Jesus.

Well, I did my best. I love talking about Jesus, and I spoke as plainly and as winsomely as I know how. I’m sure some in the audience appreciated my talk, but it was just as obvious that others wished there had been a trap door under my feet, and that they could have sprung it.

After it was all over, a woman who clearly didn’t like my presentation, said rather condescendingly, “Thank you for your contribution.” As lame and inappropriate and ridiculous as it was, I think she meant to add.

I could see her point. Even our best efforts to serve the Lord or speak up for Him aren’t much in the end. We're kidding ourselves if we think our great abilities, wisdom, eloquence, or giftedness make the difference.

Jesus is the one who does the miracles. He uses us from time to time, but we should never imagine it's because our "contribution" is so special.

  • He can take a child's brown-bag lunch and feed a multitude of people. 
  • Fill jars with plain old water, and He can transform them into the finest wine anyone has ever tasted.
  • Dirt on the ground mixed with His own spit can make mud that restores a man's eyesight (John 9:6f).
  • One touch from His hand and leprosy is cleansed.
  • One word from His mouth and the dead are raised.

An old story from Harry Ironside makes the point:  an older Christian gave his testimony about how, by His sovereign grace, the Lord had loved and called him, saved and cleansed him. Later a rather legalistic brother took him aside and criticized his talk. "I appreciated all you said about what God did for you. But you didn't mention anything about your part in it. Salvation is really part us and part God. You should have mentioned something about your part."

"Oh, yes," the older Christian said. "I apologize for that. I'm sorry. I really should have said something about my part. My part was running away, and his part was running after me until he caught me" (from James Boice's The Doctrines of Grace).

Thank you for your contribution. But Jesus is the One who makes the difference!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Can I Get a Witness?

“Can I get a WITNESS?” That’s what the preacher yells when he wants to emphasize a point.  You're supposed to “testify” to the truthfulness of his message—say “Amen!” “Preach it!” or “That’s right!”  also works.

But being a witness is a bit more than agreeing with the preacher. A witness is somebody who tells the truth about what they know, first-hand. 

Christians are called to be witnesses to their Savior. Jesus said His disciples would be His witnesses all the way to the “uttermost” parts of the world (Acts 1:8).

The Greek word for “witness” is martus. It sounds like “martyr,” somebody who will stand up for the truth even at the cost of his life.

Have you ever needed somebody to back you up, verify your story, clear your name? What if you were on trial for your life, and the testimony of a witness could exonerate you? Can I get a witness? Please?

We know Christians are supposed to be witnesses for Christ. But did you know Jesus is a witness? Jesus Christ the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of kings on earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood (Revelation 1:5).

So how is Jesus a witness?

  • He is a witness to the world’s sin. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil. John 7:7
  • He is a witness to eternity. Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going, but you do not know where I come from or where I am going. John 8:14.
  • He is a witness to Himself.  I am the one who bears witness about myself, and the Father who sent me bears witness about me. John 8:18

Christ is the faithful witness – martyr – to the truth. And in martyrdom, He brings an exonerating witness for His own. In a trial for your eternal life, His testimony means everything.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Famous Last Words

President Franklin Roosevelt’s last words were "I have a terrific headache.”

Joe DiMaggio said, “I'll finally get to see Marilyn.” (Hint: his former wife, Marilyn Monroe.)

Dominic Willard, a Prohibition mobster facing a firing squad, was asked if he had a last request. “Why yes, a bulletproof vest.”

And many of us remember, from 9-11, the courage of Todd Beamer as he and others prepared to storm the cockpit of United Flight 93: “Are you guys ready? Let’s roll.”

I love what John Newton (English preacher and writer of “Amazing Grace”) said on his deathbed: “I am in the land of the dying, and I am soon going to the land of the living.”

So now, without looking, what are the last words in the Bible? 

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.  (Revelation 22:21, ESV).

Isn’t it wonderful that the final words of holy Scripture are about the grace of our Lord! I’ve been studying the Bible for many years, and there are plenty of things I don’t understand. But what is wonderfully clear is that all of time and history, all God’s plans, everything we are or ever will be, comes down to this - the grace of Jesus.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What They Didn't Tell Me in Seminary

When I went to seminary, I learned that the Bible must be understood in its original context. So part of your task as a learner (and as a teacher) is to discover what a particular book or passage meant for the audience to whom it was originally written.

Makes sense, right?

Another thing I learned about studying and teaching the Bible is that you need to know the kind of literature it is. Is it poetry, or history, or prophecy? That will make a difference in understanding its meaning.

Also a good idea.

One more thing I learned about interpreting the Bible. You should look for transferable principles that apply to people of all times and cultures. Not everybody is going to be chained to a Roman guard, like Paul was, but we can all learn a lesson about being content in our circumstances because we trust in God.

Okay. So I appreciate all the tools I was given in seminary. They've been really helpful as I've studied and taught the Scriptures for many years.

But here’s what I was never told in seminary. The whole Bible, all of it, is about Jesus Christ. Really.

That’s what Jesus said. "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me..." (John 5:39).

 Remember after the Resurrection, on the Road to Emmaus? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:27). Or later when He appeared to His disciples: Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures…(Luke 24:44,45--my emphasis).

We should be mindful of culture and context, and looking for principles is a good idea. But let’s always ask, “What does this teach me about Jesus?” May He "open our minds to understand the Scriptures," as He did for His first disciples. Because the Bible isn't meant just to give us some good advice. It's meant to reveal the Savior, and to point us again and again to Him.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Loveliness of Christ (Rutherford)

A couple weeks ago I posted some quotes from The Loveliness of Christ, a little book excerpted from the letters of Samuel Rutherford. Like our Lord, Rutherford was a man of sorrows. The pain of losing his first wife and of outliving all but one of his children gave him a longing for heaven and a winsome way of helping others in their suffering.

I hope some of you ordered his little book. I think you’ll be glad you did. Click here for the link.

To whet your appetite (hopefully), here are a few more quotes.

Every day we may see some new thing in Christ. His love hath neither brim nor bottom.

When I look over beyond the line and beyond death, to the laughing side of the world, I triumph, and rise upon the places of Jacob…

Our fair morning is at hand, the daystar is near the rising, and we are not many miles from home; what matters the ill entertainment in the smoky inns of this miserable life? We are not to stay here, and we will be dearly welcome to him when we go to.

The sea-sick passenger shall come to land; Christ will be the first that will meet you on the shore.

She is not sent away, but only sent before, like unto a star, which going out of your sight, doth not die and vanish, but shineth in another hemisphere; ye see her not, yet she doth shine in another country.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Heaven Songs

My last post was about heaven. So here are two songs about heaven: a great old hymn (and no, I don't think "up yonder" is hokey.) and a more contemporary song from MercyMe. For each, first the lyrics, then a video.

When the Roll is Called Up Yonder
  1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound, and time shall be no more,
    And the morning breaks, eternal, bright and fair;
    When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
    • Refrain:
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder,
      When the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
  2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,
    And the glory of His resurrection share;
    When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.
  3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
    Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
    Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done,
    And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

I Can Only Imagine
I can only imagine
What it will be like
When I walk
By your side

I can only imagine
What my eyes will see
When your face
Is before me
I can only imagine

Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine

I can only imagine
When that day comes
And I find myself
Standing in the Son

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever
Forever worship You
I can only imagine


I can only imagine [x2]

I can only imagine
When all I will do
Is forever, forever worship you

 So what are your favorite heaven songs?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Who Will Be Waiting for You in Heaven?

We live in a Navy town, and our church has lots of Navy families. Periodically, for months at a time, our active duty sailors ship out for deployment all over the world. It’s quite a reunion when their ships come back. It's a wonderful kind of chaos as families and friends crowd the dock, craning their necks to catch a first glimpse of their sailor come home.

That scene makes me think of heaven—arriving safely home to the arms of those who love you.

Usually we ask, “Who will you be looking forward to seeing again, when you get to heaven?” But I want to ask a different question: Who will be waiting there for you? Who will most be looking forward to seeing you?