minister & author
If you have seen the holiday classic “Home Alone,” you’ll remember the dramatic scene when Kate McCallister suddenly realized her son had been left behind in Chicago. She was on a plane with her family mid-flight to France when an uneasy feeling arose that she had forgotten something. — Did they turn off the coffeemaker? Did they lock the door? Did they shut the garage? — She then leaned forward and screamed, “Kevin!” Kate was in agony for three long days before finally reuniting with her son. She was impressed to see that Kevin had handled himself quite nicely.
Mary could certainly relate to that story. She would have known exactly how Kate felt. In Luke 2, Mary and her family were “mid-flight” to Nazareth when she suddenly realized her son had been left behind in Jerusalem. She too was in agony for three long days before finally reuniting with her son. And like Kate, Mary was astonished at how well her son had handled himself. Both boys were just fine in their father’s house!
Henry "Box" Brown
Henry “Box” Brown was a 19th-century slave in Virginia. He devised a plan to escape slavery by having himself mailed to a free state by Adams Express Company, which was known for its confidential and efficient services. It cost him $86 dollars to be shipped in a small wooden crate (3 feet long by 2 feet wide) that was marked “dry goods.” All he had was a single hole for air, a little water, and a few biscuits. Brown almost died along the way, but finally emerged 27 hours later in Pennsylvania.
Brown’s plan required him to be placed in a confined space and carried by others for 27 hours to secure his freedom. God’s plan required Jesus to be placed in a confined space, the womb of a woman, and carried by her for nine months to secure our freedom. Jesus was not being shipped from oppression; He was being shipped to oppression. He went from paradise to a plantation for our liberation!
“Kintsugi” is the Japanese art of repairing broken ceramics using lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. It sees breakage as something to be highlighted rather than hidden, and the end result often increases the object’s value. Kintsugi makes the broken beautiful.
Kintsugi perfectly illustrates the Gospel. We are broken; God takes the pieces and puts them back together; and the end result is something more valuable and beautiful than before. Jesus Christ is the lacquer that makes this possible. However, before God can turn our mess into a masterpiece, we must come to grips with the fact that we are broken. Then and only then will God make the broken beautiful!
A little boy asked his mom why the girl at a wedding wears all white. His mom said, “The girl is called a ‘bride,’ and she wears white because it is the happiest day of her life.” The boy then asked, “Why is the man dressed in all black?”
Many people view marriage like a hot bath — “once you get used to it, it’s not so hot.” To them, marriage is not a word but a sentence. As one man said, “Marriage is when a man loses his bachelor’s degree and a woman gets her master’s degree.” The truth is, however, when done right marriage is a great blessing. It truly is a gift from God (Psalm 18:22).
During the 17th century, Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of England, sentenced a young soldier to be executed. It was to take place when the curfew bell sounded. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and clung to the clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!” Cromwell commuted the sentence.
All of us were like that young soldier. The guilt of our sin was exposed, and punishment was soon to commence. Then love intervened. It was not in the form of a girl climbing into the belfry and clinging to the clapper of the bell, but in the form of God’s Son climbing down from heaven and clinging to the old rugged cross. Her bruising and bleeding were nothing compared to His. And just as the soldier was spared by her act of love, we are spared by His act of love. If I may slightly modify Cromwell’s words, “We shall live because of His sacrifice!”
No Riding the Fence!
When Michael Jordan saw that his friend’s closet was divided in half between Puma gear and Nike gear, he gathered up all the Puma gear and carried it into the living room. He then grabbed a butcher knife, cut it all up into pieces, and disposed of it in the dumpster. Jordan told his friend, “Don’t ever let me see you in anything other than Nike. You can’t ride the fence.”
Too often the “closets of our hearts” are divided between competing interests. — God and money, God and self, God and work, God and sports, God and people. — When that happens, we need to rip out whatever is sharing space with the Lord and throw it away. We can’t ride the fence!
My Name on His Cross
A carpenter in Jerusalem supported his family by making crosses for the Romans to use in crucifixions. His young son often worked with him in the shop. One day, his son came running in with panic on his face and said, “Dad, the preacher that we love so much just passed by carrying a cross.” His dad was quite upset, for he really loved Jesus of Nazareth. His son added, “And it gets worse. They are about to crucify him on a cross that I made.” “I am sure that is not true,” the father replied. “There are many carpenter shops that make crosses for the Romans.” The son began to cry as he said, “You don’t understand, dad, I always sign my work when I am finished. I just saw my name on his cross.”
I can relate with the terror that young boy must have felt, for in a very real sense it is my name on that cross. I made it with my sins and signed it with my guilt. When I close my eyes and envision Jesus being led to Calvary, I see my name on His cross!
A man went to his father and said, “Dad, I can't take it anymore, my wife is driving me insane! I want to kill her, but I'm afraid someone might find out I did it. Please help me.” The father replied, “I can help you, but this is what you’ll have to do. You're going to have to make amends with her so no one will suspect that it was you when she dies. Take very good care of her — be kind, grateful, patient, caring, less selfish, and help her with chores. Now, do you see this powder here? Just put a little in her food every day so she dies slowly.”
After about thirty days, the son came back to his father and said, “I don't want her to die! I have come to love her. I now realize how wonderful we are together. How do I cut the effect of that poison?” The father answered, “Don't worry. What I gave you was rice powder. She's not going to die, because the poison was in you!”
There is a Peanuts cartoon where Lucy demands that Linus change the TV channel, threatening him with her fist if he doesn't. Linus asks, "What makes you think you can walk in here and take over?" Lucy says, "These five fingers. Individually they're nothing but when I curl them together like this, into a single unit, they form a weapon that is terrible to behold." Linus then asks, "Which channel do you want?" And turning away, he looks down at his own fingers and says, "Why can't you guys get organized like that?"
When individual members in the local church come together and act as a single unit, we too form a weapon that is terrible to behold. We become an incredibly powerful instrument for God to use in the world. That’s why the Scriptures talk so much about unity, and why Satan spends so much time trying to keep us apart.
Daniel knew of the king's decree. It was clearly worded and widely circulated. It said that anyone caught praying to God for the next thirty days would be cast into a den of lions. Yet with his windows opened and his eyes closed, Daniel bowed his knees in prayer.
Daniel was convicted of violating the king's decree and thrown into the lion's den. However, God saved Daniel by putting the ferocious felines on a fast. He sent an angel to shut their mouths. Daniel was too committed to compromise his convictions, are we?
A young lady bought a book and some cookies while waiting for her flight. A man sat down next to her and began reading a magazine. The packet of cookies was on the armrest between them. When she ate the first cookie, he ate one also. She thought, “What nerve! I can’t believe he would do that.” This went on over and over. Each time she would take a cookie, he would grab one too. Finally, there was but one cookie left. Unbelievably, he took half of the last cookie. The lady was infuriated and stormed to the boarding place in a huff.
When the lady boarded the plane and sat down in her seat, she looked into her purse and saw her packet of cookies. It had not been touched. Feeling absolutely ashamed, she realized that the man had shared his cookies with her. May God help all of us develop a love for Him and others that demonstrates itself in our willingness to share the cookies!
When people are asked to name their greatest regrets in life, there is usually one word they all have in common — “not.” Not speaking up, not spending more time, not asking for help, not chasing their dream, not leaving their comfort zone, not expressing their true feelings. Most people regret the times when they "didn’t" do something. Times when opportunities were not seized, or chances were not taken, or resolutions were not kept.
Let’s live today in such a way as to have no regrets tomorrow. Let’s go “all in” and leave everything on the field. That means stepping out in faith and taking some risks, knowing that it is better to try and fail than to never try at all!
One of the most stunning statements made about Jesus in Scripture is this: He did not sin. He was a perfect person who never fell short, never missed the mark, never had a moral misstep or blameful blunder during His thirty-three years on earth. The Bible says He “knew no sin” (2 Corinthians 5:21), He was “without sin” (Hebrews 4:15), and He “committed no sin” (1 Peter 2:22).
That last verse is particularly powerful because of who wrote it. Peter was not only an apostle, he was part of the Lord’s inner circle. He was with Jesus on a daily basis. There was probably no one who knew Him better or had greater access than Peter. Yet he says that Jesus committed no sin. There was no pride, prejudice, or pretense to be found. He never had a slip of the tongue or lapse in judgment. He was perfect! Therefore, Jesus is qualified to be our sacrifice for sin, “like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:19).
In Our Image
A teacher asked one of her students what he was drawing. The little boy answered, "I am drawing a picture of God." The teacher told the boy that he cannot draw a picture of God because no one knows what He looks like. The boy replied, "Well, they will when I am finished."
We all have our picture of what God looks like, don't we? This can be dangerous because we tend to envision Him in our own image, fitting neatly into a mode that we have developed. In other words, we confine God to our ways rather than conform ourselves to His ways. Be careful that your picture of God does not "draw" you away from the truth!
A woman picked up a glass of water and asked her audience, “How heavy is this?” Guesses ranged from 8 ounces to 20 ounces. The woman replied, “The actual weight does not matter. What matters is how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, my arm will ache. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and even paralyzed.” She continued, “And so it is with worry. If I worry for a little while, nothing seems to happen. If I worry for a bit longer, I begin to hurt. If I worry all day long, I feel paralyzed and incapable of doing anything.”
Jesus did not want His warriors to be worriers. He urged them to trust God, keep things in the proper perspective, and realize they do not have to carry their burdens alone. Moreover, research shows that 85% of what we worry about never happens. So, the best thing we can do is “let go and let God.” Pass that glass!
Do you have a “void” inside that can’t seem to be filled? Most of us do. But here’s the irony, the more we try to fill that void, the emptier it becomes. For instance, if we try to fill it with food, we’re left feeling hungry; if we try to fill it with people, we’re left feeling lonely; if we try to fill it with money, we’re left feeling bankrupt; if we try to fill it with entertainment, we’re left feeling bored. These things may provide temporary relief, but they offer no permanent solution.
To truly find that which can make us full, we must look to that which is empty. “Some of our men went to the tomb and found it empty…” (Luke 24:24, GW). The empty tomb of Jesus Christ holds the answer to being made full.
A marine biologist placed a shark in a tank with bait fish. The shark quickly swam around and ate all of them. The biologist then inserted a piece of clear fiberglass into the tank, creating two separate sections. When more bait fish were put in the other side, the shark quickly attacked but hit the divider and bounced off. Over time the shark got less aggressive and finally gave up altogether. When the fiberglass was removed, the shark did not attack the bait fish swimming around because he still believed the barrier existed.
Some Christians are like that shark. They have been so discouraged by past setbacks that they stop trying and just give up. They convince themselves that barriers are always standing in the way, even when they aren’t. However, Jesus taught His followers to be persistent and not to lose heart. Both sharks and saints would do well to remember the old proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!”
Jesus did not pen a single page of the New Testament. He was not a writer, but a speaker. And he spoke like none other. His words left crowds stunned, critics silenced, cruelty stifled, and creation shaken. They were both piercing and powerful.
Jesus spoke and the sea stood still; Jesus spoke and the demon stood down; Jesus spoke and the deceased stood up; Jesus spoke and the disabled stood tall; Jesus spoke and the detractor stood corrected; Jesus spoke and the sinner stood forgiven. We speak because He spoke!
A man was crossing the desert and found a wonderful spring filled with cold water. It was so refreshing that he filled a leather bottle and took some to his king. Unaware that the water had been tainted by the container, he presented it to his lord. The king took a deep drink and then highly commended his loyal subject for the gift. It was not the water the king enjoyed, but the love that motivated the man to bring it.
Like that king, our God is gracious and kind. He looks beyond the imperfection of the gifts we offer to the love that motivated those gifts in the first place. Such love makes bitter water better!
Jesus gave up magnificence for mundane, harmony for hatred, reverence for revulsion, and loftiness for lashings. He left His throne for thorns, His nobility for nails, and His crown for a cross.
Crucifixion was a particularly prolonged, painful, and public way to die. In fact, the word “excruciating” means “out of crucifying.” The person usually lingered for hours before finally succumbing to heart failure, shock, asphyxia, or dehydration. The ISBE says, “The victim of crucifixion literally died a thousand deaths.” And yet Jesus willingly took up His cross for us. Are we willing to take up our crosses for Him?
Andrew introduced his brother Simon to Jesus, the Lord looked at him intently and said, “You shall be called Cephas,” or Peter (“rock”). Have you ever wondered why Jesus changed Simon’s name? It had nothing to do with his physical appearance or the conversation that took place later at Caesarea Philippi. It had everything to do with the potential Jesus saw in him. He looked beyond what Simon was to what Simon could become.
Reaching Simon’s potential was not easy. He made plenty of mistakes. There was the reckless rebuke (Matthew 16:21-23), the presumptuous proposal (Matthew 17:1-5), the selfish sleeping (Matthew 26:40-44), the detestable denials (Matthew 26:69-75), etc. However, he finally lived up to his new name and became a “rock” for the Lord. In Peter, we see that there is no limit to our capabilities if we don’t “cap” our “abilities.” So, what does the Lord see in you?
"Barabbas” was a notorious criminal who is mentioned in all four gospel accounts. Known by some manuscripts as “Jesus Barabbas,” he had committed robbery and murder during an insurrection. And, as a result, he was an inmate on death row in Jerusalem at the time Jesus was brought before Pilate.
Pilate unwittingly pitted against each other two people who represented the most antagonistic forces of all time when he asked the crowd, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” Barabbas was the essence of carnality. He was a vile and violent lawbreaker. He was the worst Pilate could offer. Jesus, on the other hand, was the sinless Savior. He was the best God could offer. The contrast could not be clearer. Yet the crowd called for Barabbas to be released. They wanted him “let loose” (GNV). -- The sad reality is that we “let Barabbas loose” every time we turn away from righteousness to pursue some sinful enticement. We are choosing carnality over Christ!
A young girl lived near a spooky-looking cemetery, and in order to get to the store she had to follow a path that went through the cemetery. Yet the young girl never seemed to be afraid, even when it was dark outside. When someone asked her, “Aren’t you scared walking through that cemetery?” she replied, “Oh, no, I am not scared, for my home is just beyond.”
Because Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, Christians believe they have a home just beyond the cemetery and therefore have no need to fear it. Since He conquered death and lives again, they will also conquer death and live again.
David’s “giant” stood over 9 feet tall, wearing body armor that weighed 125 pounds, and carrying a spear with a head that weighed 15 pounds. He was a champion warrior whose thundering voice and towering presence caused his enemies to fear. David did not appear to stand a chance. His opponent had all the advantages (size, experience, artillery, athleticism). However, David was not fighting alone. God was on his side.
Rather than looking at the size of the giant, David was looking at the size of his God. And as a result, he prevailed! The “giant” challenging you might come in the form of anger, anxiety, guilt, pride, or prejudice. It might be a financial burden or health crisis. However, God is bigger than that giant. He can help you to prevail!
There is an attorney who is willing to plead your case before the high court. He is a flawless and famed advocate for those who stand accused. You can rest easy with him on your side.
This attorney wants to stand up for you. He desires to be your defender. He is your one and only hope. And best of all, His services are offered free of charge. Do not miss your opportunity to get this “high-powered defense lawyer” on your side (1 John 2:1, Voice)!
A man was speaking to about 200 people during a seminar. He held up a $20 bill and asked, “Who wants this?” Everyone's hand immediately went up in the air. He then crumpled up the $20 bill and asked, “Who wants this now?” The hands remained in the air. He proceeded to drop the $20 bill on the ground and grind it with his shoe as he asked, “How about now?” Still the room was full of raised hands. That is because the crumpled and dirty $20 bill had not lost its value. It was still worth something. And so it is with us!
There are times when sin leaves us crumpled and dirty. We are no longer “finely creased.” However, that does not mean we have lost our value to God. He still sees worth in us, even at our most unworthy point. This does not excuse the need for repentance, but it should motivate us to seek repentance. God still wants us!
Build It Right
A wealthy businessman noticed that a local carpenter was living in a rundown house in the community. Therefore, he hired the carpenter to do some work for him while he went on a long vacation. He said, “I want you to build a house. Use only the best materials. Hire the best craftsmen. Spare no expense.” However, the carpenter cut corners at every turn. He used inferior materials and sent unskilled workers to the site. When the rich man returned, he inspected the new house and then said, “Here are your keys.” The carpenter had been building his own house!
This story should serve as a warning for all Christians. The cheating we do when no one else is looking affects us far more than we realize. Moral missteps and spiritual shortcuts now will lead to chipping, cracking, and even crumbling later. Don’t look back on what you were building with regret!
A knight appeared before his king and declared, “Sire, I have just returned from pillaging and plundering all of your enemies to the east!” The king replied, “But I don’t have any enemies to the east.” The knight said, “You do now.”
Too often Christians fight battles and make enemies that are not necessary. We “major in minors” and bind our traditions, preferences, and opinions as if they were Scripture. When that happens, the gospel is hindered and brethren are harmed. — Let us get with each other at the cross rather than getting cross with each other!
A man was working on the roof of a church building in Werden, Germany, when his safety belt snapped and he fell. The situation could have been tragic for the man if he had not landed on a lamb grazing below. Though the lamb died, the man survived. As a token of his appreciation, the man erected a stone carving of a lamb on the roof.
That lamb did not have a choice. He had no idea what was coming. If he had, there is no doubt the lamb would have moved over and let the man fall to his death. Yet there was another lamb that did have a choice. He did know what was coming. And by grace, He willingly chose to lay down His life for us!
Can you imagine being part of the “First Family” in America or the “Royal Family” in England? You would experience privileges that the rest of us can only dream about. For instance, you would have direct access to a very powerful person, be lavished with gifts that someone else paid for, be constantly protected from harm, and forever be recognized as belonging to an exclusive fraternity.
If you think that would be cool, this will really blow your mind. Christians have been adopted into the family of God. They are part of His household. He is their Father and Jesus is their older brother. They have become heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. As a result, Christians have direct access to a very powerful person, are lavished with gifts that someone else paid for, are constantly protected from harm, and will forever be recognized as belonging to an exclusive fraternity. So, are you up for adoption?
A group of men were looking for a place to hunt. They pulled into a farmer’s driveway and one of them went up to see if they could hunt on the land. The farmer said, “You can hunt, but do me a favor. That donkey over there is 20 years old and is very sick. I just don’t have the heart to kill her. Will you do it for me?” The man replied, “Of course I will.” As he got back in the car, the man decided to play a joke on his friends. He said, “We can’t hunt here, but I’m going to teach that old man a lesson he won’t forget.” He then stuck his gun out the window and shot the donkey. Almost immediately, a second shot rang out from the passenger side as one of his friends yelled, “I got the cow!”
"Rashness” is being overhasty in action without due consideration. There are many examples of rashness in the Bible. For instance, Moses acted rashly getting water from the rock and was prohibited from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20); and Jephthah and Herod made rash vows that cost people their lives (Judges 11; Mark 6). Rashness can hurt feelings, ruin friendships, and divide congregations. It is far better to practice prudence. As Proverbs says, “Wise people think before they act...” (13:16, NLT).
On August 5, 2010, a group of 33 Chilean miners became trapped nearly half a mile beneath the surface of the earth. They found themselves cut off from above, buried 2,300 feet deep, and unable to do anything about it on their own. They had to rely on outside intervention, which finally presented itself after 69 days in the form of a specially-designed capsule.
The rescue of the Chilean miners perfectly illustrates the concept of salvation by grace. Man is cut off from above, buried deep in sin, and unable to do anything about it on his own. He must rely on outside intervention, which has come in the form of Jesus Christ. He is the saving capsule! However, man must get “into” Him (Galatians 3:27) and “remain” there (John 15:4) to reach the top.
LeBron James violated royal protocol by wrapping his arm around Duchess Kate for a picture in 2014. The faux pas took place at an NBA game between the Cavaliers and Nets in New York, and it left the British media reeling. Though palace officials downplayed the incident, royals are to initiate handshakes and conversations, and they are not to be touched.
I wonder if Christians sometimes view God like that. In their desire to show Him proper respect and reverence, they keep their distance for fear of violating some kind of "royal protocol." They don't want to get too close or speak too soon. While it is true that God is holy and must be approached with the utmost regard, He is also our "Father" and we are His "children." Our relationship is more familial than formal. He loves us and seeks our affection!
Restrained by Love
A three-year-old boy was sitting at the dinner table with his parents when he suddenly declared, “Jesus died on the cross.” They were impressed by his surprising remark and asked him why Jesus died on the cross. He thought about it for a minute and said, “Because He couldn’t get off.” There is actually a lot of truth to that answer. Jesus couldn’t get off the cross — not because of the nails in His hands and feet, but because of His love for mankind. That love held Him far more firmly than any physical restraints ever could.
Jesus gave up magnificence for mundane, harmony for hatred, reverence for revulsion, and loftiness for lashings. He left His throne for thorns, His nobility for nails, and His crown for a cross. He did for us what we could not have done for ourselves. As Peter wrote, “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
The Extra Mile
Have you ever had somebody go out of their way for you? I am not talking about in little ways, like getting up from the table to grab the ketchup; I mean in ways that really required effort and sacrifice.
Not long ago my family was driving down I-65 when our tire blew. It was a cold, snowy night. We didn’t have cell phone reception or much distance between us and the passing semi-trucks. Feeling desperate, we sent a text to someone who lived in the area. He soon arrived at our stranded vehicle on the side of the road. He then drove us to get a new tire at Wal-Mart, bought us dinner, took us back to the car, and gladly installed the new tire. He went the extra mile at his own time and expense, much like the Samaritan man in the story Jesus once told (Luke 10:30-36). …I guess we could call him "The Good Kentuckian!”
The gospel is “the power of God” (Romans 1:16). “Power” comes from the Greek word dynamis, from which we get our English word dynamite. Hence, the gospel is God’s dynamite! And we certainly see that dynamite working in the lives of Christians around the world.
Christians have seen the gospel “blow up” their fears and failures and give them a true sense of peace. They have received a “blast” of purpose in life; they have obtained a “burst” of understanding in the Word; and they have experienced an “explosion” of improvement in the home. That same gospel can give your life the “boom” it so desperately needs!
Prior to WWII, France developed a line of defensive fortifications along its eastern border called the “Maginot Line.” It consisted of concrete bunkers and weapon installations that were designed to thwart any frontal assault by the Germans. When that time came, however, the Maginot Line proved to be unsuccessful, because most of Hitler’s forces bypassed the line and invaded instead through the north, which the allied forces were not anticipating. As a result, France fell in about six weeks.
Many of our churches today are digging in against the threat of liberalism, and rightfully so. Basic moral values are under attack, the integrity of the Bible is being challenged, and everything from the role of women to the authority of elders is being reinterpreted. However, while we build our defensive fortifications against that threat, we need to be on guard against another possible invasion which is less anticipated but certainly as dangerous — legalism. Legalism binds where God has not bound and forbids what is allowed. So, let us beware of those who would slip in to take our liberty!
God knew what awaited His Son. He knew they would spit in His face, strike Him on the head, strip off His clothes, and sarcastically kneel before Him. He knew that His Son would be scourged, spiked, and speared. None of it was a surprise. All of it was expected. From the stumbling Savior trying to carry His own cross, to the scoffing soldiers casting lots for His garments, to the sobbing sisters watching in the distance, this horror scene had played out in God’s mind many times. And yet He allowed it to happen.
God’s love is too great to describe with words. It is beyond the limits of human language. He “did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all” (Romans 8:32). What earthly father would give up his son for someone else? Yet God did just that.
Adopted by God
“Adoption” comes from a compound Greek word that means “to place as son.” Though adoption was not widely practiced among the Jews, it was quite prevalent in the Roman Empire. An adopted son was deliberately chosen to perpetuate the father’s name and to inherit his estate. Paul said that Christians have been adopted into the family of God.
Jesus is the only natural son of God. The rest of us are sons by adoption. We have become His children and He is our “Abba.” (“Abba” is an informal Aramaic word for “father.” It is a term of endearment reserved for a child. The English equivalent is “daddy” or “papa.”) This makes us heirs of God and fellow heirs with Jesus.
Two Soviet ships collided in the Black Sea off the coast of Russia in 1986, killing many people. An investigation revealed that the crash was not caused by mechanical failure or weather conditions. It was the result of pride. Both captains knew of the other ship’s presence and could have easily steered clear, but neither would yield. A lack of humility cost hundreds of people their lives.
Everything about the Lord’s life — from His birth in a barn to His burial in a borrowed tomb — stood as a rebuke of pride. He was meek, mild, and modest. He sought to serve rather than be served. He understood that God reigns in the highest heavens and in the lowliest hearts. The poor in spirit will be rich in spirit!
There Were Witnesses
Suppose a man robbed a bank at gunpoint, and five people got a good look at him. Their eyewitness testimony would carry a lot of weight in court, wouldn’t it? Now suppose that five more people came forward who also got a good look at the man, and then five more people after that. Can you imagine how overwhelming the testimony of 15 eyewitnesses would be in the conviction of that criminal?
Now consider how many people were eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There weren’t just 5 or 10 or 15, we’re talking about more than 500 people. And they all got a good look at Him! There was Mary Magdalene and the other women, the apostle Peter, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, the rest of the apostles, the five hundred, James, Stephen, and Paul. Hence, there is no question that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. The eyewitness testimony is simply overwhelming. The only question is whether you will make Him the Lord of your life.
Gaze of Grace
When the Israelites despised the food that God sent them from heaven, He sent them something from the earth — fiery serpents. “Fiery” could have reference to their color, but more likely refers to their venom. Their bite burned! The NIV says “venomous snakes” and the NRSV says “poisonous serpents.” These agents of death were coming out of crevices, curled up in corners, slithering in the sand, and hissing at their heels. They spread through the camp like wildfire and killed many of the Israelites. However, when the people begged for mercy, a bronze serpent was lifted up that they could look upon and be healed.
The Israelites experienced a horror scene that sounds like something out of Hollywood: slithering slayers lurking in the shadows, hiding behind rocks, climbing on the pottery, and clinging to the walls, just waiting to attack their next victim. Then grace entered the picture. God intervened. Healing happened. The symbol of death became a symbol of life. All they had to do was “look” to the right thing in obedient faith. Have you done that?
The Great Raid
“The Great Raid” was a daring rescue of over 500 POWs from a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines just before they were to be executed. A group of Army Rangers and Scouts slipped 35 miles behind enemy lines and staged a devastating assault under the cover of darkness, killing all the Japanese guards without harming any of the POWs.
The POWs had been held captive for 3 long years. They were beaten, forced to do hard labor, required to stand at attention for hours, and lived on less than a handful of rice per day. Yet because of the courageous acts of others, they were freed. They were liberated from their confinement! Sound familiar? We were being held captive in Satan’s prison camp doomed to die until someone courageously slipped across enemy lines to free us. Jesus Christ put His own life on the line to save ours!
A wine shortage may not sound like a big deal today, but in the first century it was a huge issue. The groom’s family was responsible for the refreshments, and to run out of wine during the festivities was socially disgraceful. It would bring the family a lot of shame and embarrassment, and they could even be subject to a fine.
Jesus did not have to save the day. It was not His party or His problem. Yet He knew that a family’s reputation was at stake. He knew that the newly-weds happy affair was in danger of a cultural catastrophe. Therefore, Jesus did what seemed impossible. He turned large jars of water into wine. That’s grace. And it was the best-tasting wine ever! More grace.
A man forgot to silence his phone before service started and it rang during a prayer. The preacher scolded him, several members made condescending remarks, and his wife lectured him on the way home for being so careless. You could see the shame on his face, and the man never went back to church again.
That evening, the man went to a local bar. His nerves were shot from the earlier incident at church and he accidentally spilled his drink on the table. The waiter apologized and gave him a napkin to clean himself. Another man came over smiling and wiped the floor. The manager then offered him a complimentary drink and said, “Don’t worry about that? We all make mistakes.” The man has been going back to that bar ever since. — Isn’t it sad when the world shows more compassion than Christians?
A kindergarten teacher was helping one of her students put on his boots. She pulled and tugged until they were finally on his feet. The boy said, “Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.” She almost whimpered as she struggled to get the boots off and back on the right feet. Then the boy announced, “These aren’t my boots.” She bit her tongue rather than scream, “Why didn’t you say so earlier?” Once the boots were off, the boy added, “They’re my brother’s boots. My mom made me wear them.” The teacher didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She finally mustered up the grace to wrestle the boots on his feet again. “Now, where are your gloves?” she asked. “I stuffed them in my boots,” he replied.
“Patience” comes from a Greek word that means “long-tempered.” It is the opposite of being short-tempered. It is the ability to stay calm when provoked and to endure injury without retaliating. A.T. Robertson said it means “holding out a long time and putting up with a great deal.” Patience is a quality of God that should characterize His children. Remember that when the boot won’t scoot!
The sacrifice of Christ did not begin on the cross, or in the garden, or in the manger. It began in heaven when He laid aside His glory and consented to come to earth. He left the abode of God for the abode of man and exchanged exaltation for humiliation, magnitude for servitude, a radiant crown for a rugged cross, and a hallowed throne for a hollowed tomb. And it was all for us!
Jesus did not have to do it. He chose to do it. His great sacrifice, which started in heaven and culminated on the cross, brought hope to the hopeless and life to the lifeless. It did for us what we could not have done for ourselves.
Jesus gave up worship for a womb, majesty for a manger, splendor for a stable, and heaven for a hamlet. He went from being wrapped in glory to being wrapped in strips of cloth. He left the breathtaking for breath-taking. The Infinite became an infant. And He did it for us!
It is incredible to know that the baby Mary delivered had actually come to deliver her and everyone else. He was born so we could be born again. He lived on earth so we could live in heaven. That helpless infant lying in the manger had come to help the truly helpless.
We need to be fashioned after the old, without being old fashioned. While our services should be patterned according to the New Testament, that doesn’t mean we have to sit on wooden pews surrounded by stained-glass windows singing hymns from the 1800s. Nor does it mean using archaic language like “thee” and “thine” or wearing fancy suits.
I believe that a failure to distinguish between "truth" and "tradition" has caused some churches to lose touch with modern society and their influence has been marginalized. We must see the difference between commands and customs, precepts and preferences; and recognize that some changes are good!
A set of twin brothers were alike in just about every way. However, there was one noticeable difference. One of the brothers saw the downside in every situation while the other was extremely optimistic. Their parents were concerned about this and consulted a doctor, who suggested that they give the pessimist a new bike and the optimist a box of manure to see how they would respond. When the pessimist saw the bike, he said, “I’ll probably crash and break my leg.” When the optimist saw the manure, he ran outside screaming, “You can’t fool me! Where there is this much manure, there has to be a pony around here somewhere!”
Winston Churchill once said, “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” That is certainly true. And no one has more reason to be optimistic than Christians. Our past is past, our present is a present, and our future is brighter than we could ever imagine. There is no need to mope for those who have hope!