Monthly Archives: February 2015

It Is Written

It was brutally hot during the day.

It was bitterly cold at night.

It was a barren land.

He was alone in a vast wilderness – a desert.

He must have felt it – to the very depths of his pure but still physical being.

He had just been blessed, baptized by his cousin John and commended by his well-pleased Father.

But from this celestial celebration he went into the wilderness.

This was his wilderness, his experience; his testing.

Luke says that Jesus was “full of the Holy Ghost” (Luke 4:1, KJV).

In this he was hardly alone. The Spirit was with him.

In fact, it was the Holy Spirit who had led Jesus to this desert.

Luke describes this experience. So does Matthew. Mark says little but notes that this happened “immediately” after Jesus’ Baptism and that our Lord was “with the wild beasts”, intimating a forbidding place.

It was here – in this arid, rocky wasteland – that Jesus spent 40 long days and, Luke tells us, “in those days he did eat nothing” (Luke 4:2, KJV).

When those days had passed, Jesus was terribly hungry.

We who have fasted a day or so – or even a week – might have some idea of what Jesus felt. But we were never in a desert. Not likely alone. And not for 40 days.

And then, in the weakness and longing of his hunger, the test came.

This is the second great titanic clash of spiritual powers recorded in the scriptures. There have been many others, of course: tests, deprivations, temptations and trials.

The Bible is a book of spiritual conflict from beginning to end.

But they all pale in comparison to this one – and to the much earlier one.

The first temptation took place, not in a wilderness but in a garden. It came not to a man alone but to a man and his wife. The first temptation came in a place of sinless perfection and beauty. The second great temptation came in a world filled with sin and in a place of unadorned barrenness.

The devil came to the first Adam – through his wife Eve.

Satan used pride – as C.S. Lewis called it, “the greatest sin.”

And the devil made a frontal assault upon the authority – the very veracity – of God’s Word.

“Hath God said?” he rhetorically asked Eve.

The devil knew what God had said.

But here he must plant a seed of doubt in the woman’s mind and in her heart (and the man’s too, we’ll not let Adam off so easily; he was there when God spoke his command). The first step, let the biblical record show, was to call into question God’s Word.

The disintegration – and the descent – begins there.

It always does.

Perhaps God didn’t mean it. Perhaps we just don’t understand it. Perhaps God’s being unfair and unreasonable in this matter. After all, what’s wrong with a little supposedly forbidden fruit? It looks so good. It must be OK. It would have to be OK. Otherwise, why would we want it so badly?

Perhaps God didn’t say it at all.

Adam and Eve had every reason to resist but they surrendered.

Our second Adam had every reason to give in but he resisted.

Again, it was pride that Satan used. Again, it was a direct assault upon the Word of God. And again it was craftily laced with questioning and doubt.

But this time, the quotations were from the written record. Jesus and Satan both knew the scriptures.

As in the garden, the devil struck again at hunger, appetite and physical desire. He knew how long Jesus had gone without food.

“If you are the Son of God,” he whispered, “tell this stone to become bread” (Luke 4:3, NASB).

Jesus came back at him – with the Word of God. He wielded the Sword of the Spirit in the power of the Spirit which filled him even now in this lonely and forsaken place.

“It is written, that man shall not live by bread alone,” Jesus replied, “but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4, KJV, quoted from Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Word is paramount. It is the true bread.

Twice more before this ordeal ended, Satan thrust at the Savior with pride, ambition and out of context texts. Each time, Jesus parried with the Word of God, the mighty sword of truth.

With this sword, Jesus Christ defeated Satan in the wilderness.

No wonder John calls Jesus the Word become flesh.

And how sad when Rob Bell, once an evangelical mega-church pastor and hero to thousands of young Christians, tells Oprah Winfrey that homosexual marriage must prevail because how can “letters written 2,000 years ago” possibly compete with the longings and desires of the human heart.

Without a compass we become lost.

Without an anchor we drift.

Without a plumb line, we sway.

Without confidence in the unchanging and ever-relevant authority and power of the Bible as God’s Holy Word, individual Christians have nothing to say to a hurting world. And the church has nothing to say worth listening to.

When God speaks all discussions must cease. When God is silent, all discussions are irrelevant.

May we never compromise and never apologize for declaring, with Jesus, “It is written.”

May God bless you and your family.

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“People of the Cross”

It could have been the New England coast.

Beautiful, tranquil, quiet.

Some rocks.

The waves calmly lap the shore under cloudy skies.

The peaceful scene makes the graphic and gruesomely violent video all the more shockingly surreal.

Soldiers dressed in black march a line of men, clad in orange jumpsuits, along the shoreline.

They stop. The men are forced to their knees. Then a masked and hooded man from behind brandishes a knife and begins his diatribe into the camera. Only his dark steely eyes are visible.

When he is finished speaking, the men on their knees are pushed to the ground and summarily beheaded with knives.

All 21 of them.

ISIS has struck again. The professional video. The ceremonial butchery. The cold and stomach-churning orchestration designed to strike fear into the viewers.

These are sickeningly familiar to the world.

This time was different.

The 21 executed men were Egyptian Christians.

The place was different too: not in the desert but on a beach in Libya.

The video had an introductory caption:

“A Message signed with blood to the Nation of the Cross”

As the victims were lined up on their knees, the words above them read:

“The people of the cross, the followers of the hostile Egyptian church.”

The men were Coptic Christians – members of the oldest Christian sect in Egypt. Like you and me, “people of the cross.”

As in everything else they viciously do, the militants invoked the name of Allah. They vowed to storm Rome and promised to turn the sea behind them red with the blood of “the crusaders.”

Christians.

In its statement denouncing the beheadings, the White House carefully avoided calling the victims Christians. Instead, they were described as “Egyptian citizens.” This inexplicable omission was less than a fortnight following President Obama’s controversial assertion that holy crusaders had done much evil in the name of Christianity a thousand years ago.

It didn’t change the fact that these martyrs were slaughtered like sheep because of their faith in Jesus Christ.

They were “people of the cross.”

Even CNN called them Christians.

It fell to Pope Francis to eloquently express the moral outrage and solidarity of believers everywhere.

“They were executed for nothing more than the fact that they were Christian,” the Pope said. “The blood of our Christian sisters and brothers is testimony that cries out.”

Declared Pope Francis:

“Be they Catholics, Orthodox, Copts, or Lutherans, it does not matter. They are Christians, their blood is the same; their blood confesses Christ.”

Speaking of “an ecumenism of blood,” Francis said “the martyrs belong to all Christians.”

Indeed it seems in a situation like this that doctrinal and denominational differences – even substantive differences of theology – pale in comparison to standing in global solidarity with “the people of the cross.”

In a time of evil persecution, dare we not care?

How many of us will stand? How many of us – like these 21 – would be willing to die for our faith?

As I saw the water turned to red with the blood of our brothers that day, I thought of the water and blood that poured from our Savior’s side on the cross as he died for us.

This is the true message signed with blood – the message from God signed with the blood of his Son.

It is a message not of hate, but of love; a message not of vengeance, but of forgiveness; a message not of violence, but of peace.

It is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and it has the power – the sole power – to defeat hatred and transform lives. Our brave colleagues in the Middle East have told Haggai Institute to continue to train leaders for evangelism so that they may return and make a difference in their own nations, troubled and wracked as those countries are by the chaos and hate fomented by the evil one.

They too are people of the cross. They know its power. They will die for Christ if it comes to that.

What can you do?

Pray.

Then ask your pastor to pray – publicly before the whole church – for our brothers and sisters in the Middle East. Ask him to speak out in his preaching. It’s time now for the leaders of our local churches to rise above the immediate concerns that too easily dominate our conversations.

It’s time for them to speak out.

We need preaching from America’s pulpits that is both biblical and contemporary. Preaching fit for the challenges of these difficult days.

“The storm is coming,” says Rev. Franklin Graham. We must be fortified now to take our stand.

From his prison cell, Paul told the Philippians, “For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake”(Philippians 1:29, KJV).

To be, to the end, “people of the cross.”

Those Egyptian Christians left the Libyan seashore that day to be welcomed into heaven by the multitudes of saints, prophets and apostles who had also given their lives for the cause of Christ.

“Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death.”

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Nothing at All

You might not recognize the name Sir Thomas Jones Woodward.

He was the Welch crooner.

A big hit in the 1960s, he’s better known as Tom Jones, one of the most popular vocalists of that rock and roll era. If you’re a Baby Boomer and you didn’t live under a rock, you remember that full-throated baritone.

If you’re younger than that, he’s the guy who lives across the street and works at the local Wendy’s.

Jones had 36 Top 40 songs in the United Kingdom and 19 in the United States.

Among them were It’s Not Unusual, Delilah, She’s a Lady and the country hit, Green ,Green Grass of Home.

One of Jones’ songs, Without Love, was particularly soulful, even for him.

It’s a song about the futility and emptiness of a life Without Love.

After saying that “To live for today and to love for tomorrow is the wisdom of a fool,” Jones began to sing his sad song:

“I awakened this morning, I was filled with despair All my dreams turned to ashes and gone, oh yeah As I looked at my life it was barren and bare Without love I’ve had nothing at all.”

 Then the rousing chorus is where the Baby Boomer Karaoke singers join in:

“Without love I’ve had nothing Without love I’ve had nothing at all I have conquered the world All but one thing did I have Without love I’ve had nothing at all.”

 OK, hold on, hold on!

Did you see the little bearded guy in a robe, sandals and thick-lensed glasses singing in the back?

Yeah, that guy!

He’s not Tom. His name is Paul.

Paul the Apostle.

He loves this song. In fact, Paul argues that he was the inspiration behind Jones’ lyrics.

In that well-known and beloved classic found in the 13th chapter of his first letter to the church at Corinth, written two thousand years ago, the great apostle begins with the very affirmation – the theme – of the old rock song:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal” (verse 1, NKJV).

Words, no matter how smooth, are nothing but meaningless noise without love. Eloquence is no match for authenticity.

“And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (verse 2, NKJV, emphasis added).

Keen spiritual insights, vast biblical knowledge and mountain-moving faith may astound the crowds and make you a celebrity in Christendom but devoid of love you are nothing. A Doctor of Ministry degree may impress a church but without love you’ll be a lousy pastor.

“And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (verse 3, NKJV, emphasis added).

You may give away money like Carnegie, serve like Mother Teresa and sacrifice like Joan of Arc but if you do not have love it all goes up in smoke.

You would have gained nothing – nothing at all.

Paul begins this beautiful tribute to love by first of all declaring the primacy, centrality and essential quality of this fruit of the Holy Spirit.

By love our character is defined and refined and made sublime.

You may conquer the world and lack just one thing. But what’s missing can turn your dreams to ashes and render your life barren and bare.

Because, writes Paul, you are nothing, nothing at all.

From Beauty and the Beast and The Hunchback of Notre Dame to It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, love – or the absence of it – has been transformative to the human soul.

God’s story about us is a love story, culminating in its ultimate expression on the cross.

The love of which Paul writes “is patient and kind … is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out” (verse 4-6, NLT).

Here is where Paul adds practicality to supremacy. Love in its work clothes.

I take that checklist and study it and realize again how often I fall short of the great love of God. But it also gives me much to work toward and reminds me that without love I have nothing – and I am nothing.

Nothing at all.

Forrest Gump knew what love was. Tragically, our culture does not.

This Valentine’s Day weekend, Fifty Shades of Grey will open to packed theaters. Thousands will experience a voyeuristic pornographic film celebration of sadomasochism. It is a cold and violent and brutal mockery of everything that is good, pure and noble about love.

And a clear symbol of how far America has slouched toward the moral abyss.

For those of us who choose not to go, this weekend is an opportunity to renew our genuine love – for one another and for God.

And to remember that without love we have nothing – nothing at all.

May God bless you and your family.

 

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Tick…Tick…Tick

Last month, they set it ahead by a full two minutes.

It now stands at three minutes to midnight.

It hasn’t been this close since 1984, during the arms race.

The only time it’s been closer to midnight was in 1953, when the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear devices within nine months of each other. Then it was set at two minutes to the fatal hour.

It’s the Doomsday Clock.

First set in 1947 during the advent of the Nuclear Age at seven minutes before midnight, the symbolic clock is supposed to remind us of the precarious position of the world. It represents a “countdown” to global disaster, usually associated with the threat of nuclear weapons. Maintained by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the Doomsday Clock has been a sort of modern Damocles Sword hanging over the whole human race.

Sometimes the hand is set ahead – sometimes back. And so it goes – depending on a certain scientific view of world events.

As with the original ancient sword, the Doomsday Clock cautions those with great power of the accompanying responsibility.

From another point of view, one might conclude that the Clock is like the boy who cried wolf.

After all, it’s been warning us of impending worldwide doom for almost 70 years.

Nothing’s happened yet.

We’re all still here and life continues pretty much as it always has. Oh sure, change is a constant, but we adjust and move on. Let the hand of the Clock be moved as the scientists will.

It doesn’t affect us.

The scientists tell us they’ve moved the Doomsday Clock to 11:57 because of nuclear proliferation – more nations have nuclear weapons than ever before in the history of the world – and because of climate change. Both problems are getting worse, they say, and little, if anything, is being done about it.

Despite politics and theories, it would seem that circumstantial evidence would justify the scientific concern.

The weather of the world is wilder.

Extreme swings break old records.

Forty inches of snow in Boston recently over seven days made it the snowiest week in the area since records began in 1891. Reports show the oceans rising. Yes, climate change is real. And it’s becoming increasingly undeniable, even for naysayers.

Jesus foretold of climate change:

“And there will be strange signs in the sun, moon, and stars. And here on earth the nations will be in turmoil, perplexed by the roaring seas and strange tides” (Luke 21:25, NLT).

So this is not simply scientific fact. It’s prophetic fulfillment.

Ironically, the end of the Cold War has made the world, in many ways, a more unstable and dangerous place.

No one should be more concerned about the earth and the wise stewardship and conservation of its resources than Christians. No one should be any more dedicated to working and praying for peace in the world than those who follow the Prince of Peace. A Jordanian pilot’s barbaric death reminds us of the depravity of man and the long and difficult road to shalom.

Yet, for the follower of Jesus Christ there is no reason to give way to doom over the future. We must avoid the cavalier attitude of those who dismiss the coming cataclysm. “What happened to the promise that Jesus is coming again?” they mock. “From before the times of our ancestors, everything has remained the same” (II Peter 3:4, NLT).

But it hasn’t and it won’t.

One day, the clock will strike midnight.

Afraid? Not at all!

Jesus told us that this would be “the beginning of sorrows” (Matthew 24:8, KJV – “the first of the birth pains, with more to come”, NLT).

Creation is going into labor. The world is dilated. Perhaps even nine centimeters – or more.

Paul writes in Romans that “all of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8: 22, NLT).

That’s a long labor!

Since the infection of Eden, the world has labored under the curse of sin. We call it “the human condition.”

But pain always precedes the abundant joy of birth and new life.

“You will grieve,” Jesus told his disciples, “but your grief will suddenly turn to wonderful joy” (John 16:21, NLT). He likened it to a woman in labor. “When her child is born, her anguish gives way to joy because she has brought a new baby into the world.” (verse 21, NLT).

So it is with us who wait for his return.

Some day and in some way, this old world and all its anguish and suffering, will come to an end.

No Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists can ultimately prevent that. Time will end. The clock will strike.

But then will come new birth and new life.

A new heaven and a new earth.

You and I will enter that glorious land – the city with eternal foundations, the city “whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews11:10, KJV).

No more sorrow, no more pain, no more death and no more tears.

“I will see you again,” Jesus promises, “and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you” (John 16:22, KJV).

In the meanwhile, every tick of the clock just leads us closer home.

May God bless you and your family.

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