Monday, April 28, 2014

"Have You Been Baptized in the Holy Spirit?"

The summer after my freshman year of college, I was excited about sharing my Christian faith. Some friends and I decided we should have evangelistic meetings in the small city park in my home town.

I’m pretty sure we didn't talk to anyone “official” about our plans, or apply for a permit. We just told everyone we could that we were going to have “meetings” in the park that weekend. We loaded a piano into the bed of a pickup and that became the stage. We drove the pickup onto the lawn at the park, set up some folding chairs, and we were set. Somebody played the piano, someone else led singing, and I stood up to preach the gospel.

It wasn't pretty, but when I gave the “altar call” there were some folks in the audience who turned to Christ.

But a strange thing happened in the middle of our evangelistic zeal. Somehow word of our outdoor evangelism had reached a group of Christians in a nearby town. They showed up on one of the nights, and after I preached, a group of five or six of them asked to speak to me.

They pulled their chairs in a circle, with me in the middle. The spokesman, a young guy with a wispy beard about ten years older than I, asked me a question: “Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?"

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Missing Piece, Part 2

Today I was thinking about the day after Jesus’ resurrection. Some people think He went directly back to heaven. But the Bible is clear - He stayed here on Planet Earth for 40 days, and more than 500 people saw Him. He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8).

But what was that first Monday like? I know as a pastor I’m usually exhausted after Easter Sunday, and all I did was preach. Christ’s weekend started with a stressful, sleepless night, and went downhill from there. In the space of three days He was betrayed by one of His closest friends, deserted by the rest of them, and tortured by His enemies. He bore all the sins of all God’s people throughout time, and experienced the wrath and judicial abandonment of His Father. And then He died.

So the day after, after He rose again in triumph, I wonder if He didn’t simply rest. But Scripture does not give us those details.

What it does give us, though, is the sweeping confidence that Christ’s resurrection is the seal of approval, the great proof that God’s plan of redemption worked.

Last time I compared the resurrection to “the missing piece” of a puzzle, and began a short journey through the book of Romans. Here’s part two.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Missing Piece, Part 1

Have you ever picked up a book and read all the way to the end, only to find that the last page is missing?

Or maybe you’re been working on a jigsaw puzzle, and you have all the border pieces in, and you've separated the other pieces by color. The sky is put together, and the trees, and the windows in the house. Hours later, you’re almost done. But when you get to the end, there’s a piece missing! I hate that!

Sometimes life is like that. You work hard to achieve something, but when you get to the end, it doesn't seem worth it. Whether it’s getting an education, or getting married, buying a house, getting your dream car (or truck), starting a family, taking a trip to Europe, it’s not quite what you thought or hoped or expected. Something is missing.

That’s how Jesus’ followers must have felt on Good Friday. They had seen Him perform miracles, walk on the sea, multiply the loaves and fishes, calm the storm, heal the sick, even raise the dead.

They had laughed with Him, learned from Him, been amazed by Him, and followed Him for three years. Their lives would never be the same.

But then it all seemed to come crashing down. His enemies finally caught up to Him and He was taken into custody. The forces of darkness seemed to completely overwhelm the truth and beauty that was Jesus Christ. He was subjected to a series of clandestine, illegal trials. Lies were told about Him, and He wouldn't even defend Himself. He was condemned to death.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Even Your Faith is From Him!

Imagine you’re in heaven, standing happily in a long line of worshipers. You get acquainted with the Christian next to you, trading stories about your earthly life and your family. He asks, “Why did you believe in Jesus when others in your family did not?”

If you’re a Christian today, what would you say? Why have you come to follow Jesus, when many that you know, including friends and family, do not?

One answer is to say something like, “I guess I am just more spiritually sensitive than others in my family.” Or maybe, “I became so desperate that I turned to Christ.” Some might even say, “I started investigating the claims of Christ, and it finally made sense to me.”

For many years I would have said the same thing. I didn't realize the subtle pride inherent in my perspective. I was more sensitive than others…I became more desperate...I was investigating and I finally understood.

But over time I discovered that the Bible gives the credit for my salvation, even for my faith, to God. Here are some examples. (My highlights)

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Key to God's Heart

If God exists, if God is God, if He is Creator, Judge, and Lord of all, if He holds time and eternity in His hands, if He determines the destiny of His creation, His creatures would be wise to find the key to His heart.

We would be wise to ask not just “what does He require?” or “what will He permit?” but “what does He love? What delights His heart?”

Happily the truth about God’s heart, His delight and pleasure, is plainly stated in the New Testament. (In each of the verses I’ll quote below, the verb “to be well pleased” is used – eudokeo. I’m highlighting it in red. And notice that in each case, it is God who is “well pleased.”)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Freedom from Anxiety

Last week I spoke at our church on having victory over anxiety. (If you were so inclined, you could listen to it here).

Like most people, I have had my own battle with worry. And probably my list of concerns is similar to yours: health issues, finances, my family, marriage, children and grandchildren, friends, work, the future.  

What I have found over and over again is that the best thing I can do to “win over worry” is to come to my Savior. There is no one better, wiser, kinder, or more able to help than Jesus. He may not always respond in the way I want Him to. But trusting Him and laying my life before Him, giving my burdens to Him to do with as He sees fit, has always been the path to peace.

I love the invitation Jesus gives to take up His yoke in Matthew 11:28-30. Sunday I read a paraphrase with the topic of worry in mind.

Come to Me, all of you who are struggling with worry, and are heavy laden with anxiety and fear. Come to Me, and I will give you rest from the turmoil, and peace from the fear. Instead, take My yoke upon You and learn from Me. It will be My job to lead you and to provide, and your job to follow and to obey. And you will discover that I am gentle and lowly in heart. I know what you’re going through, I’ve walked through it Myself, and I am going to guide you through. You will find rest for your souls. This yoke of Mine, it’s easy, because it’s connecting you to Me. And this burden is light because I’m bearing all the weight.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Young Coptic Christian Murdered by Egyptian Islamists

Screenshot from Egyptian TV, via CNS.
Today I read another horrifying story of persecution, and I wanted to let you know about it. CNS is reporting that on Friday, March 28 in Cairo, a young Coptic Christian woman named Mary Sameh George was dragged out of her car and murdered - beaten, stabbed, abused, and her throat slit by a Muslim mob. Then they torched her car.

Her “crime”? She had a Christian cross hanging from her rear-view mirror. Oh, and she was on her way to deliver medicine to a sick old woman.

CNS has the main story here, but I also found it on the Washington Times website (here), and on Breitbart (here).

What can we who love Jesus do, in the face of such terrible persecution? Here are four suggestions:

1. Don’t be surprised. Persecution has always been likely for those of us who follow Christ. Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed (1 Peter 4:12-13). Our Savior said, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.  If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. (John 15:18-20a).

2. Pray not only for the family and friends of our sister in Christ, but pray for those who killed her. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:33).

3. Don’t be ignorant about Islam. Inform yourself. I just finished The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent, by Erwin Lutzer, and I recommend it. (Amazon link here)

4. Tell people about Jesus. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). And the "everyone" includes people who murdered Christians. (Like Paul.)

May God bless all the Mary Georges who love Christ and are hated because of Him. 
The hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me (John 16:2-3)
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).