Monthly Archives: March 2016

Indeed!

What a difference!

It all started when he got knocked off his high horse.

The experience was radical and he became a man possessed – not by hatred as he had been but by love. Not by a determination to obliterate a strange new faith but by a devoted commitment to spread it.

He was transformed on the dusty road to Damascus.

His fiery passions did a 360.

The Apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament, was a man on a mission.

In his ardent pursuit to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the first-century world, he was prepared to meet any hardship, endure any trial and suffer any persecution.

And he did – plenty.

He told the Corinthians that he had “been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again” (II Corinthians 11:23, NLT).

Few in history have suffered more for the cause of Christ than the indomitable Paul. Few have given up more of this world’s glory and prestige.

It was from a prison in Rome that he wrote to the Philippians about his sterling Jewish pedigree. If anyone could boast about his background and achievements this “Hebrew of the Hebrews” could. Yet he explained to the Philippians that the goals, values and priorities of his life were radically different.

Everything now for this brilliant scholar was weighed on a different set of scales.

“I once thought these things were valuable,” Paul wrote, “but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared to the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:7-8, NLT).

Paul looked to the future, saw his purpose clearly and never once took his eyes off Jesus.

He pressed on. He traveled light. He valued what mattered.

Nothing mattered as much to Paul as this:

“That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death” (Philippians 3:10, KJV).

“That I may know him and the power of his resurrection …”

Here was the secret of the great man’s life.

For Paul the resurrection of Jesus Christ was not just an annual event – a burst of colorful pageantry; an hour of familiar recitations and a prayer of thanks.

It was a daily presence and a daily power.

For Paul, the resurrection was a holistic worldview, it was a continuing perspective and it was an attitude.

It was the way to live as an optimist in a pessimistic world.

Nothing was more practical or more relevant than the resurrection. Paul faced every trial, every hardship, every suffering through the power of the resurrected Christ. This was his reliable source of joy and confidence.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was not just a future hope – it was a present reality. Paul defended the resurrection logically and with a persuasive eloquence, but he lived it practically.

At the end of the 15th chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, after underscoring the central importance of the resurrection of Christ as the lynchpin of all our hopes – in this world and the next – arguing that our faith is utterly futile without it, Paul urges us onward in life:

“Remain steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” It is because Christ is risen – because he defeated death and the devil when the stone rolled away from the tomb – that our work for God is never in vain (I Corinthians 15:58).

Our faith is not in vain.

The members of the early church greeted one another with this salutation.

“Christ is Risen!”
“He is Risen Indeed!”

When terrorists strike into the very heart of Europe, killing 34 and injuring hundreds, and the world is gripped in fear, we must remember …

Christ is Risen!

Despite the present evils of injustice, racism, hatred and violence …

Christ is Risen!

In the hospital, the classroom, the factory, the unemployment office, the prison and the drug rehabilitation center …

Christ is Risen!

At the graveside …

Christ is Risen!

In the midst of your fear and uncertainty about the future, your guilt over the past and your discouragement of the present …

Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!

Don’t just celebrate the resurrection – embrace it. Live it.

Experience its power. Let its truth and beauty inform and infuse your life.

It’s our only hope.

Through all his hardships the apostle Paul remained triumphant and joyful. The hammer of his adversities would have broken many a man upon the anvil of despair. But Paul was convinced that he served a risen Savior.

It made all the difference in how he thought and how he acted.

What was true for Paul then – in that cruel first- century world – is just as true for you and me today.

We serve the risen Christ and in this earth-shattering reality alone we have hope, joy and final victory.

No matter our circumstance or the world condition. No matter the headlines yet to be written.

This is what it means to know him and the power of his resurrection.

Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!

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He Knew

We fail.

We sin.

We all miss the mark.

Whether it’s by a lot or a little makes no difference. The glory of God is a very high standard and there’s not one of us who hasn’t fallen short of it.

We disappoint others. We disappoint ourselves. We disappoint God.

Yet no failure must ever be final.

No sin must ever be fatal.

A man called Peter could tell us.

It would have been bad enough that evening for this disciple. But he typically was the one who spoke up, and that only made it worse. Jesus had just warned him: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31, KJV).

Your might expect Peter to have cautiously pondered that spiritual advisory, coming as it did from his Lord. But then he was, after all, Peter.

“Lord,” Peter insisted, “I am ready to go to prison with you, and even die with you.” [22:33, NLT].

All of us pledge enthusiastic loyalty at the outset – and we’re always sincere in the moment. Devotion comes easy until it’s put to the test. Courage means nothing until it’s called for. At the time he spoke those words, Peter meant them.

We’re always ready to march – before we actually have to; before we see the enemy staring us down.

What Jesus then told Peter – perhaps in the presence of the other disciples – stunned him to silence.

“Peter, let me tell you something. Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.” [22:34, NLT].

As the ominous evening wore on, Peter’s loyalty began to unravel and the courage he had so passionately professed evaporated into the night mist.

First, he couldn’t even stay awake through Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. While Jesus wept, Peter slept.

As his Lord – the One for whom Peter would be willing to die – was led away by Roman guards, “Peter followed at a distance.” [Luke 22:54, emphasis added].

And then came the expletive-laced denials.

Luke tells us something that the other gospel writers omit. After Peter insisted – for the third time – that he didn’t know who Jesus was, Luke records:

“At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter.”[22:61, NLT].

We don’t know how Luke was aware of this startling detail – except that Peter must have told him. Peter remembered that look. How could he ever forget those eyes, so sad yet so kind? Was it not a look of understanding and compassion? Surely, Jesus didn’t scowl at Peter. It could not have been a look of condemnation or anger. It was, perhaps, the brief look of a broken heart.

However Jesus looked at Peter in that instant, the impact was immediate.

“Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind” [vs.61, NLT].

“And Peter remembered the word of the Lord” [KJV].

It cut Peter’s conscience to the marrow.

Luke says that he “left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.”[vs. 62, NLT].

Peter disappears into his shame and disgrace and his incredible guilt. Yes, “Peter remembered.” That’s all he could do. He remembered the courage he had when it didn’t count. And the courage he lost when it did. He remembered how his lofty allegiance melted in a crucible of unimaginable disloyalty.

Most of all, Peter remembered the look. How could Jesus ever forgive him? How could Jesus ever look at Peter – again?

Luke tells us that the buzz following the resurrection was that “The Lord has really risen!”

How did they know?

“He has appeared to Peter” [Luke 24: 34, NLT]. Yes, Peter!

Mark says that the young man at Jesus’ empty tomb commanded the women who had come to anoint Jesus’ body to “go, tell his disciples and Peter” that Jesus had risen. [Mark 16: 7].

“…and Peter…” Don’t forget Peter.

Peter, whose greatest days were still ahead. Peter, who would strengthen, encourage and lead the first Christian church. Peter, who would yet die for Christ. Yes, Peter, who was forgiven and still loved by the Savior he had denied knowing.

You will search in vain throughout scripture for a greater testament to the love and forgiveness of our Lord Jesus than those two simple words, “and Peter.”

They are full of meaning. In them is the glory and redemptive power of the Gospel. Here is the greatness of God’s heart. The resurrected Christ went out of his way to single Peter out – and to include him in the mighty breadth of his extraordinary grace.

For every one of us who has ever stumbled and fallen – who has ever been tortured by a painful regret and a guilty remembrance – he has done the same.

Jesus has reached out and included you and me by name.

He has forgiven us – and asked us to forgive ourselves.

It has been said that “we need to be loved the most when we deserve it the least. Only God can fulfill this need. Only God can provide a love so deep it saves from the depths.”

Peter could tell us that.

He knew.

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What No One Can Count

I bit into a grape not long ago.

I love grapes but to my dismay, this one had a seed in it.

Somehow, in my haste, I had missed the label on the package. I would never have purchased grapes with seeds.

Seeds spoil the succulent fun.

Of course, where would we be without them? There would be no grapes, or apples or any other fruit or vegetable without seeds. I still vividly remember buying vegetable seeds for my dad’s garden when I was a kid in Connecticut.

Dad, who didn’t know what a small garden was, would have great ambitions every planting season. After careful study, he picked out the seed packages he wanted and he knew the brand names. I marveled at his attention to detail; his encyclopedic knowledge of all the instructions.

Sometimes he’d ask me to pick them up at the store and he was always very specific.

I figured what’s the difference?

I remember the luscious and colorful squash, corn or carrots pictured on the outside of the package in all their glory. But the seeds were disappointing and never looked like much. When harvest time came it was from those tiny inconspicuous seeds that a bountiful and beautiful garden, cultivated with deliberate care and blessed with the rain and sun from above, had grown.

It was another valuable agricultural lesson I learned in spite of my rather apathetic disposition toward gardening.

Beth and I were in Atlanta recently attending the Haggai Institute Global Summit. What an exciting event. Recognized Christian leaders from around the world had converged to share the Haggai Experience. These men and women had taken Haggai’s leadership training for evangelism.

They didn’t resign their professions but instead had returned to their native lands – and their occupations – and joyfully shared the Gospel with their countrymen – in their own language and culture.

This is a model of global evangelism unmatched in power and effectiveness anywhere in the world.

While much of the third world closes its doors to western missionaries, Haggai Institute bypasses visas, lengthy language courses and cultural acclimations to take the love of Jesus Christ to unexpected and previously unreached places.

Haggai’s leaders are trusted because they are not strangers from away – they are one with those they reach.

Whether it is an artist in China, an environmentalist in Indonesia, a scientist in Bulgaria, a doctor fighting AIDS in Nigeria, or a businesswoman helping the victims of war in Ukraine, the leaders of Haggai Institute are making this world a better place – and sharing the Gospel while they’re doing it.

Never has there been a greater need. Never has there been a more exciting opportunity.

Since 1969, Haggai Institute has prepared nearly 100,000 men and women from 188 nations to present the Gospel to those who have yet to hear that God loves them so much that he sent his Son to die for them.

The leader of our Mandarin ministry in China, a gifted young man named Ezekiel Tan, shared a quote with us in Atlanta:

“You can count the number of seeds in an apple but you can never count the number of apples in a seed.”

Jesus told us that the “kingdom of God cometh not with observation” (Luke 17:20, KJV). There are often no visible signs of God’s work – no news broadcasts or prime-time specials. Much of what God does in this world begins in unremarkable and small ways. It’s often undercover and unnoticed.

A recent report reveals that there may be close to one million Christians worshipping in secret in Iran.

God’s kingdom grows and expands and it advances not through geopolitical shifts or military conquest but through the daily dedication of the disciples of Jesus and their quiet deeds of love and kindness.

When he described God’s kingdom, Jesus compared it to a mustard seed.

“It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants”, he said. “It grows into a tree and birds come and make nests in its branches” (Matthew 13: 32, NLT).

The influence of God’s kingdom may not be easily observed or loudly lauded in a world reeling from evil and drenched in suffering, but its transformative power is making the lives of millions better.

God does great things from tiny seeds.

There is no stopping the power of God. There is no thwarting the purposes of God. There is no killing the love of God. There is no defeating the kingdom of God. The gates of hell shall never prevail against it.

Christianity had to go worldwide. It had no choice.

This was its founding charter, its far-flung vision and its forging mission. Jesus made this crystal clear to his first followers on the Galilean mount of his ascension.

Before God brings the curtain down on this fallen planet, purges it with fire and makes all things gloriously new, Christ’s Great Commission will first be fulfilled. The Good News must be preached to all nations (Mark 13:10).

The story must be told.

Through ministries like Haggai Institute and its global leaders, this divine mission could be achieved in our lifetime.

May we always remember that in this great enterprise, no one can count the number of apples in a single seed.

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Back At Ya!

Chris Bires, 41, was on his way to work.

He walked this street in downtown Chicago every day, Monday thru Friday. It was routinely uneventful.

Until that day.

When Chris spotted a man playing his saxophone on the street and the empty can next to him, he decided he’d do a good deed. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out all his coins and emptied them into the can. The bearded young saxophonist smiled at the clean-shaven executive and thanked him.

When he got to work, Chris discovered that he was missing his wedding ring. The ring fit a little loose and he had been planning to have it re-sized. He must have somehow accidently handed it over to the street musician when he gave him his money. His heart sunk. Chris raced back to where the saxophonist had been but he was gone.

As he walked back to his office, Chris wondered how he would explain this to his wife. And then he thought, “If only I hadn’t given that guy my money”. Chris ruefully sneered to himself. “I guess it’s like they say, no good deed goes unpunished.”

Weeks went by.

Then one day, walking to work, Chris was anxiously intercepted by a smiling middle-aged woman. She reached into her handbag and pulled something out. When she opened her hand to Chris, there was his lost ring.

Chris couldn’t believe it.

Bonita Franks, a panhandler, had seen Chris return that day telling someone about the man with the saxophone and his lost ring. She remembered it when she later spotted the sax player. And she took it upon herself to get the ring back, as only a street- savvy panhandler could do.

Bonita didn’t know if she’d ever see Chris Bires on that crowded city street again but she vowed to watch and when she did, she couldn’t wait to return his lost treasure. And there, on that busy Chicago street, surely surrounded by all manner of greed, apathy and selfish striving, two unlikely people hugged, brought together by their kindness and generosity.

We’ve all been tempted to feel that in this world, sooner or later, idealism gets brutally mugged; that good deeds are unrequited and, as often as not, punished. Our age breeds cynicism and contempt and the headlines blare it.

We shake our heads. “That figures. They should have known better.”

God, faith and the Bible go boldly against this rough and hardened grain. They beckon us to a higher standard, a softer heart and a more hopeful disposition.

There is an ancient Hebrew saying found in the Old Testament: “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again” (Ecclesiastes 11:1-2, NIV).

What does this mean?

Give generously, with no thought to your own interests and, no matter what may happen in the meanwhile, your kindness will not go unnoticed or unrewarded. The blessing may be immediate or it may be delayed but it will never be abandoned or overlooked by a God who sees all and cares deeply.

How do we know this?

Because God will be a debtor to no one. We cannot out-give him. God is the ultimate Giver. He has given us His only Son and our greatest gift, eternal life. Daily God blesses us beyond all measure in so many ways we fail to count or recall. As the poet wrote, “he giveth and giveth and giveth again.” God is unbelievably and extravagantly generous.

He gave all this to us when we had nothing, could do nothing and were nothing.

We cannot pay God back.

This is the glory of our salvation – and its chief stumbling block for so many. We feel we must earn that which we can only accept. There can be no grace without God’s giving; nor can there be grace without our open arms and empty hands.

“In my hand no price I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling”.

In a world and culture that’s all about taking and getting, everything about Christianity involves giving. As Jesus prepared to send out the disciples to perform all manner of good deeds, He reminded them:

“Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:9, NKJV). Their receiving was the basis of their giving.

So is ours.

“Give”, Jesus tells us, “and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38, NKJV).

“Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back – given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity” (Luke 6:38, The Message).

In these fractured and coarsened times how important that we remember our Savior’s teaching.

The poet Edwin Markham expressed this spiritual truth when he wrote:

“There is a destiny which makes us brothers; none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”

Chris Bires and Bonita Franks would smile, fist-bump and say, “Back at ya!”

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