Monday, July 22, 2002

The Bible: God’s Word for Our Lives
Part Four, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus
July 21, 2002

Orville and Wilbur Wright were excited! On December 17, 1903 at Kitty Hawk in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, they succeeded in keeping their homemade airplane in flight for 59 seconds. They immediately sent a telegram to their sister in Dayton so that she could share in their elation over this accomplishment. The telegram said, “First sustained flight today fifty-nine seconds. Hope to be home by Christmas.”

On receiving the news of the world’s first powered flight, the Wright Brothers’ sister went to the editor of the local newspaper and handed the telegram to him. The next morning, the newspaper headlined its story about the Wright Brothers: “Popular Local Bicycle Merchants To Be Home For Holidays.”

I think that when it comes to the Bible, you and I may sometimes be guilty of the same thing that afflicted that editor. He saw the telegram. But he had no vision for its meaning. You and I can see the Bible. Sometimes, we may even read it. But often, we seem to lack a vision for what it is and what it can mean for us in our lives. My guess is that everyone in this auditorium today owns at least one copy of the Bible. That’s good! This morning, as we continue to explore the basics of being a follower of Jesus Christ, I want to convince you that the Bible is the most important item you possess in your whole home and then, I want to give you a way to get more out of your Bible.

So, why is the Bible important?

When World War Two broke out, an organization called the British and Foreign Bible Society was located on Jerusalem Street in Warsaw, Poland. As the Nazi Luftwaffe began bombing the city, the wife of the organization’s director moved some 2000 Bibles into a basement storeroom. She was trapped there by the bombing, was captured, and sent to a prison camp. She somehow escaped and after the war, got to those 2000 Bibles and distributed them to people in desperate need of them. Warsaw was flattened. But there on Jerusalem Street, one wall of the old British and Foreign Bible Society remained standing. On it, in large letters for all the world to see, were printed these words, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” [Matthew 24:35] These words of Jesus, recorded in the Bible, had tremendous power on that Warsaw street in 1945. Though the city had crumbled, passersby could see that God’s Word still stood strong even among the rubble!

One of the keenest insights offered by Martin Luther, the founder of the Lutheran movement of which Friendship is a part, is that the Bible is important because it introduces us to Jesus. The Bible is about Jesus, Who is God in the flesh, Whose word will never pass away.

This is true even of those parts of the Bible written hundreds and thousands of years before Jesus’ birth. The Old Testament portion of the Bible anticipates and points toward Jesus, God come to earth, and the New Testament tells us about Him. When we read the Bible, we’re getting to know God intimately because Jesus is God!

No other sacred book in the world shows us God in the way the Bible does. The books which come from the world’s religions urge people to do things to earn God’s attention. But the book that comes from God, the Bible, insists that God already cares about us. It tells us: "...God proves His love for us in that while we still were sinners, Christ died for us!"

God became a human being in the person of Jesus Christ just to die and rise for us and win us back into fellowship with God. The Bible is important because through it, we meet Jesus. The Gospel of John in the New Testament employs a Greek philosophical term, the Word, which was used of the universe’s originating agent, to describe Jesus. "In the beginning," we're told "was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...All things came into being through Him, and without Him not one thing came into being...He came to what was His own [the world], and His own people [us] did not accept Him. But to all who received Him, who believed in His Name, He gave power to become children of God..."

The Bible is the cradle, the cross, and the empty tomb at which you and I can meet Jesus. The whole purpose of the Bible is to help us know Jesus so that we can surrender to Him and become children of God. Near the end of his telling of the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, the apostle John writes, "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing, you may have life in His Name."

The Bible is important, first of all, because it is the Word to us about Jesus, the one and only Savior of the world!

The Bible also is important because it provides us with counsel from God. The Bible has practical instructions from God on how to live our lives. And it can transform our lives. An American visiting a South Sea Island smiled condescendingly when an islander proudly displayed his Bible. “We’ve outgrown that sort of thing,” the American said. The islander smiled back, “It’s a good thing we haven’t. If it weren’t for this book, you’d have been my meal by now.”

Good things can happen in our world and in our lives when there is faith in Jesus Christ and an openness to the Bible as God’s guidance for us. The apostle Paul writes that, "All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work."

On the pages of the Bible, the God Who accepts us we are, goes to work at helping us become all that we’re meant to be!

The Bible has power! It can give us intimacy with God. It can provide us with counsel from God. But it can’t do these things if we don’t pay attention to it. When we fail to pay heed to the Bible, it provides no more power for living than a receptacle provides to a lamp that hasn’t been plugged in.

Let me suggest a way you can plug into the Bible, a way based on what many of us learned during the recent Christian Life and Witness Course held in our city. Sit down for fifteen minutes each day with your Bible and the Our Daily Bread devotional booklet we distribute for free here at Friendship. As you read the Bible passages appointed for that day, watch for a verse or two that really jumps out at you, that speaks to you. Then, on a separate piece of paper, copy that passage down. Then circle two words that catch your attention. In your own way, define those words. Then, paraphrase the verse or verses you copied down. Next, jot down two or three ways in which you can apply the truth of the passage you’ve read to your life that day. I’ve been doing this in recent weeks and I can already see ways in which it is transforming the way I live my life.

Another thing I’ve been doing lately is writing Bible verses on three-by-five cards and memorizing the passages. I had my son Philip drilling me on my memorized passages this past week.

Now, if all this focus on the Bible seems crazy, a waste of time, so be it! I agree with the observation made by C.H. Spurgeon, the great nineteenth century preacher who said, “A Bible which is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t!”

The New Testament book of Hebrews tells us that “the word of God is living and active.” Digging into the Bible, along with prayer, is the most important thing that you and I can do each day. Don’t be like that Dayton newspaper editor. Do more than just see the Bible. Catch a vision of what it can do in your life! Make the Bible part of every day of your life. You will not regret it!

Lordship: Who's the Boss, Part Three, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus

Lordship: Who’s the Boss
Part Three, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus
July 14, 2002

In an Eastern European country some years ago, one-hundred people were gathered on a Sunday morning to worship God. They had just finished praying, when a squadron of menacing Communist soldiers burst into their meeting area, submachine guns in hand. Going toward the podium, they insulted the worshipers, calling them “filth of the earth” and weaklings of whom the nation would best be rid. Saying that they knew there were some present who didn’t believe in all this nonsense about Jesus Christ, the soldiers then gave the worshipers sixty seconds to clear out of the room. Half the congregation rushed for the doors and windows.

A minute later, the the soldiers dropped their guns and their leader called out to the remaining worshipers, “Brethren, we have come to worship with you! But first, we had to get rid of the hypocrites.” One word separated those who stayed from those who left on that Sunday morning. That word is Lordship. The believers who bravely stayed behind were those who truly followed Jesus Christ as their Lord.

Lord is a word that doesn’t get used very often in our culture today. But it was a common word in both the Hebrew language of the Old Testament and the Greek language of the New Testament. The Hebrew word for Lord is adon. The Greek word is kurios. In the Biblical thought-world a lord was an absolute king, ruler, authority, boss. A person who thought of someone else as their lord also thought of themselves as his humble, obedient, submissive slave.

This is all a bit grating on our modern ears and sensibilities. So, what exactly does it mean to live under Christ’s Lordship, to call Jesus our Lord?

First: It means that we are under Christ’s ownership. Over the past few weeks we’ve been saying that Jesus brings freedom to live eternally, freedom to live rightly, and freedom to live purposefully to all who follow Him. But here is a strange paradox: The only way we can ever be truly free is when we allow ourselves to be slaves of Jesus Christ. He must be our Lord!

Jesus once said of Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” Jesus is the only doorway to God and to eternity. And He is the only doorway onto life lived according to the master plan of the One Who made us. To become truly free means to get in sync with God. It means to live under the authority—the Lordship--of God among us, Jesus Christ.

In the New Testament book of First Corinthians, the apostle Paul talks about this. He writes to a group of Christians who think that the freedom Jesus gives them is license to do anything they want with their bodies. The Corinthian congregation was one in which people ate and drank to excess and slept around. But Paul asks them pointedly, " you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit..., which you have from God, and that you are not your own? [And then, referring to the fact that Jesus paid for our sins through His death on a cross, he says] For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body."

When Jesus is our Lord, we give the ownership of our lives to Him.

Having Jesus as our Lord also means that we put God first, obeying God’s will for our lives. God’s will for us, according to Jesus, boils down to this: we’re to love God completely and love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Jesus summarized this commandment well when He told the disciples not to worry about their lives or their futures and said, "...strive first for the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things [these things we worry and stew over] will be given to you as well."

Last Sunday, our son Philip and Andrew Wood watched Chariots of Fire at our house. That movie tells the true story of two runners who participated in the 1924 Olympics as part of the team from Great Britain. One struggled to become the best in order to validate his very existence. The other, Eric Liddell, ran to give glory to God. He risked the wrath of king and country when he refused to run his main event on a Sunday during the Olympics. In his view, God’s will was that he not work on the Sabbath day. By withdrawing from the event being run on a Sunday, he cleared the way for the other man to win the Gold Medal. Interestingly, after having run in several races the next day, he still won the Gold Medal in what was for him, a replacement event. His triumph was widely seen as God’s endorsement of a man who preferred doing God’s will and seeking God’s kingdom over the accolades of the world.

As I watched the movie again, I thought of the passage from the Psalms in the Old Testament that encourages all believers. "Take delight in the Lord" it tells us, "and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will act."

Having Jesus as Lord also means we accept our accountability to Him. In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the story of three slaves of a wealthy man. The wealthy man, who represents God, goes away for awhile. But before doing so, he entrusts various amounts of money to the slaves. When he returns, the wealthy man is happy to find that the two men to whom he entrusted the bigger amounts of money have doubled what he gave to them. But the third man, who had been entrusted with the smallest amount of money, afraid of losing it and incurring the master’s anger, had buried the money given to him. He returned the original amount, thinking that the master would be pleased with him for that. But the master in Jesus’ story flies into a rage, “You wicked and lazy slave!...[Then to other servants he says] take the [money] from him, and give it to the one with [more]. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for the worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Some people are blessed with more talent and more abilities than others. Some people have more opportunities than others. That’s life. But here’s the important point to remember: God doesn’t hold any of us accountable for the talents and opportunities we don’t have. God does expect us to be accountable for the talents and opportunities we do have. Living under the Lordship of Jesus means having a Savior and Lord Who is committed to helping us make the most of the life that He gives to us...and Who expects that we will do just that!

As many of you know, I have a collection of buttons. One of my favorites is a white circle with a red line around it and a diagonal red line through a single word written in bold black letters in the middle: Whining. The message is No Whining! That’s really the message of Jesus’ story of the rich man and his three slaves. There’s no room for whining in this life. Through Jesus and our faith in Him, God has already given us new lives that will be lived with Him forever. The New Testament tells us that “if anyone is in Christ Jesus [that is, if we believe in Christ and are following Him], there is a new creation. The old has passed away!” I’m so glad to follow a Lord Who is helping me become, not somebody else, but my best self! Jesus also promises to be with us always. Now, as slaves of a loving master, our call is to make the most of every second of life that God gives to us.

A few weeks ago, I was talking with our own Paul Niehaus. As you know, Paul lost his job in one of those machinations that go on in corporate America these days, even though he’d worked for his company capably for more than two decades. And though there are times when Paul understandably feels down, he also says that no matter how things go, he knows that God is blessing him and supporting him. Because Paul lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, I feel sure that he will make the most of God’s blessings in his life. That inspires me...and it should inspire everybody here this morning!

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says that not everybody who calls Him Lord—not even those who do notable things through His power—will enter heaven. That wonderful blessing will come only to those who believingly trust in Him. They’re the people who take Jesus into their work places and homes, their leisure activities and their relationships, into their lives. To truly believe in Jesus means that He is our Lord—that we live under His ownership; that we put God first, submitting to His will for our lives; and that we make ourselves accountable to Him.

The choice is ours: We can choose the freedom of this world and become slaves to death or we can choose to be slaves to Christ and be set free to become and experience the very best God wants for all of us, now and forever!

Assurance: Evading the Traps of Doubt, Part Two, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus

Assurance: Evading the Traps of Doubt
Part Two, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus
July 7, 2002

Art Caswell grew up in Phoenix, Arizona. The high school team on which he played had a team chaplain, Lutheran pastor Walt Kallestad. Kallestad’s job was to inspire and encourage players like Caswell to become the best they could be. After playing college ball, Art didn’t make the NFL. So, he went to the Canadian Football League. He did so because of his dream to play in the NFL. The CFL often is a proving ground for prospective NFL players. But not for Art. He was cut from the Canadian league, an event that usually spells the end of a football player’s career. But even when his friends told him to give up, he persisted in the pursuit of his dream of playing in the NFL. His persistence paid off when, at age twenty-six, Art Caswell became a rookie, playing for the Oakland Raiders.

But, according to Pastor Kallestad, Caswell’s story isn’t about the persistence of an individual person bucking the odds. As Kallestad tells it in his book, Waking Up Your Dreams, Caswell “was motivated to do the most he possibly could with his God-given ability.” Caswell believed in the God he knew believed in him! Because he walked in the daily assurance of God’s presence and power in his life, he had the capacity to keep trying even as the world around told him to quit. His relationship with Jesus Christ gave Art Caswell the capacity to live with assurance. As defined by one author, “[a]ssurance is the awareness of belonging to Christ and having complete confidence in Him.”

Last week, we talked about salvation. We said that being saved involves three things: God frees us from sin in order to free us for right living; frees us from death in order to free us for eternal life; frees us from futility in order to give us purpose. But often, it seems people who openly confess faith in Christ have something happen to them. They wrestle with doubts. It isn’t that they doubt God, or doubt that Jesus died and rose. But sometimes, they doubt whether the salvation and the blessings that Jesus offers to the rest of the world really belong to them. There seem to be three main ways people lack assurance about their salvation.

Because God wants all who believe in Jesus Christ to face life and death with absolute confidence—with assurance, I want to deal with each one of these assaults on our salvation today.

First: We may lack assurance because we’ve fallen into the trap of believing that salvation has to do with our performance. A man was talking with me several years ago. He had been in church all his life. “I’m not sure that I really am a Christian,” he told me. I was taken aback and asked him, “Don’t you believe in Jesus Christ?” “Sure,” he said, “I believe in Jesus Christ. But I just don’t feel as though I’m a good enough person to go to heaven.” I smiled at him and said, “Welcome to the club!” None of us is good enough to go to heaven. None of us is good enough to have the blessings of right living, eternal life, and purposefulness that God gives to all with faith in Jesus Christ.

But if you and I are willing to turn away from sin and let Jesus Christ be the absolute, ultimate authority in our lives, these blessings are ours. We can face life and death with the assurance that the apostle Paul talks about in the New Testament book of Romans:
“...if you confess with your lips that Jesus Christ is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved...The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in Him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on Him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord shall be saved.’” [Romans 10:9-13]
Jesus frees us from performance-based religion.

We may also lack assurance because we’ve fallen into the trap of trusting our emotions rather than the facts. The fact is Jesus died and rose for you. The fact is that if you trust in Him, you have salvation. That’s what God’s Word says. But some people think that if a person has salvation, they’ll always have spiritual goose bumps. There are times when God induces goose bumps and incites our emotions. Many of you know that I began praying for an effort that united the churches of metropolitan Cincinnati to do evangelism together back in 1994. This past Sunday night, as we looked at the 65,600 people who packed Paul Brown Stadium on the last day of the Billy Graham Mission, an African-American woman named Vanessa, who was among the pastors and lay professionals with whom I worked to support and supervise counselors as the Mission unfolded, turned to me and said, “Look all around here. God heard your prayer!” I was overcome by emotion and couldn’t speak.

But my life with God isn’t always like that. Our relationships with God are a bit like the relationships that people enjoy in good marriages. A good husband or a good wife always loves their spouse. But when you’re putting out the garbage, or washing a spouse’s underwear, or doing the dishes, or cleaning the toilets, you’re not likely to feel goose bumps. And even when we’re not feeling passionately enthusiastic about Jesus Christ, it doesn’t alter the fact that He died and rose for us because loves us or that we can believe in Him. We can live each day in the assurance we find in the New Testament book of Philippians. There, the apostle Paul writes to the first century church in the Greek city of Philippi:
“I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
When the Bible speaks of “the day of Jesus Christ,” it’s referring to that day when Jesus returns and brings the life of this world to an end. Paul is saying that the Jesus Who committed Himself to you body and soul by dying on a cross and rising from the dead and has promised to be with you always is never going to give up on you. That’s a source of assurance!

And then, some people lose the assurance of their salvation—of their relationship with Christ—because of they fall into the trap of sin and disobedience in their lives. The Bible teaches that all who believe in Jesus Christ are saints and sinners. The believer in Jesus is nothing other than a forgiven sinner. But there are times when we may willfully disobey God and turn away from His will. I’ve told the story before of the man in my former congregation who, years before I arrived on the scene, was arguing vehemently at a congregational meeting that the worship services should be conducted in German, even though most of the people of the community all spoke English. He refused to love his neighbors enough to make Christ accessible to them. After a particularly impassioned speech expressing his opinion, he sat down and said quietly to an English-speaker next to him, “I know I’m wrong. But I refuse to give in.” If we take that attitude with God—refusing to bend our wills to His, refusing to love others—we erect a wall between God and ourselves. The person who tries to follow Christ while disobeying His will for our lives is like someone trying to jump up and down while standing still. It can’t be done! Sin causes us to doubt God’s love for us. This is how the apostle James puts it in the New Testament:
“...for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord.” [James 1:8]

This past week, I read about an urgent request that President Dwight Eisenhower made just days before he died. He was at Walter Reed Army Hospital and wanted to meet with Billy Graham. Facing imminent death, Eisenhower was wallowing in uncertainty about his spiritual condition. “How can I know that I’m ready to face God in eternity?” he wondered. Graham pointed to a few passages from the Bible like the one I have printed in the bulletin this morning. They’re words of Jesus from the Gospel of John:
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears My word and believes Him Who sent Me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.
When Eisenhower heard words like those, he flashed the evangelist one of his patented Ike grins and said, “I’m ready to die because I do believe!”

The Bible tells us that our adversary the devil prowls around looking for people to devour. He wants to rob us of the assurance that God gives to those who believe in Jesus Christ. He tries to lure us into the trap of performance-based religion, into the trap of trusting our emotions rather than trusting Christ, and into the trap of sinful rebellion against God. But we can face life—and death—with assurance when we trust Jesus Christ, when we believe in the God Who believes in us!

Salvation: Saved from What?, Part One, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus

Salvation: Saved From What?
Part One, New Beginnings, What It Means to Follow Jesus
June 30, 2002

I have a friend named Bill. He was my best man when Ann and I were married. He and his family live in the mountains of northern Arizona. Last Sunday, I learned that the fires raging in that part of the country had forced the evacuation of 3500 people from their small town of Lakeside. Needless to say, I was very concerned and spent several days trying to learn whether Bill, his wife Sue, and their children had been saved from the fire. Just last night, his sister told me that they are okay and should be returning to their home soon.

It’s easy for us to understand the idea of being saved when it comes to a raging fire. But it may not be so easy to understand what the Bible or followers of Jesus Christ mean when they speak of people being saved or of salvation. Years ago, shortly after I became a Jesus-follower, I told a friend that Jesus had come into the world to save us. And he asked me, “Saved from what?” It’s a fair question. What do followers of Jesus mean when we speak of Jesus saving us?

We really mean freedom. Jesus frees those with faith in Him to accept themselves and to become the people God designed us to be. There are three main things Jesus frees us from and three main things He frees us for.

First: Jesus frees us from the power of sin. Both the Bible and personal experience ought to tell every person here this morning that we are powerless to consistently behave as we know we ought to behave. Just last night, I had to apologize to a young man from at the Billy Graham Mission, another volunteer there. He had upset me when I felt that he was not being helpful to one of the counselors working with some people who had come forward to recommit their lives to Christ. I got angry with him. Later, I went back to apologize to him for having scolded him. We don’t always behave as we ought to. The first century preacher and teacher Paul talks about this in a letter he wrote to Roman Christians in the first century and which is in the Bible:
I do not understand my own actions...For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do...
There probably isn’t a person here today who hasn’t felt that way.

So, there is a power working within us, a flaw in our characters, that keeps us from consistently being the good and loving people we sense that we were made to be. That power is called sin. We all were born in sin, according to the Bible. It also tells us that every person has sinned and falls short of the lives God intends for human beings.

But there is a power that is bigger than the power that sin exerts over us. It comes to us in the Person of Jesus Christ, God in human flesh, and it’s a free gift to all who follow Jesus. Through Jesus, God frees us from sin and frees us to be righteous. To be righteous isn’t to walk around with angel wings. Until we have a relationship with Jesus Christ, our whole lives can be compared to trying to hear a distant radio station without a reliable tuner and having the antenna pulled down. When we surrender our lives to Christ, we have a clear connection with God. To be righteous is to have a right relationship with God. It isn’t something we can make happen. It’s a gift we receive from Jesus Christ. Paul talks about it in this way:
[This is good news] I’m most proud to proclaim, this extraordinary Message of God’s powerful plan to rescue everyone who trusts Him...God’s way of putting people right shows up in the acts of faith, confirming what the Scripture has said all along, “The person in right standing before God by trusting Him really lives!”
Through Jesus, God frees us from sin and frees us for righteousness, for right living with God.

Second: Jesus frees us from the power of death. The Bible contains these chilling words: The wages of sin is death...If I’m a teacher who teaches, or a plumber who plumbs, or a clerk who clerks and I get my paycheck, you could tell me, “You’re getting exactly what you earned.” According to the Bible, all of us sinners have also earned our proper wages. As sinners who have sinned, we all deserve death.
But God loves us too much to let that be the last word over our lives. While respecting our right to say, “No” to Him, God did something stunning. God the Father sent God the Son, Jesus, into our world and took the rap for us. The most famous passage of the Bible, John, chapter 3, verse 16 puts it quite simply, quoting words spoken by Jesus Himself:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”
God frees us from death in order to free us for everlasting life!

Third: Jesus frees us to live our lives with purpose. An elderly woman once asked me, “Why are we alive? I can’t see the point of it.” Many people—young, old, and middle-aged—can be heard asking the same question.

When we follow Jesus Christ, He gives us a reason to wake up in the morning beyond making money that we’ll only spend, owning cars or houses that only need to be maintained and that wear out, or achieving success that can’t make us better or happier people. In the New Testament book of First Peter, we’re told that all who follow Christ:
...were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ...
Jesus shed His blood on a cross to free us from sin and death and futile ways of living.

Also in that book of First Peter, we’re reminded of who the followers of Jesus are: are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him Who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
When we follow Jesus Christ, He frees us to live our lives with purpose. He calls us to share Him, His love, His goodness, and His power to free people with others. That doesn’t mean that you’ll become a preacher. (There may be more than enough of those to go around in the world!) It means that in your own, unique, God-designed way, Christ will free you to become your truest, most authentic self and that as your truest self, you will point others to the life that Jesus gives to all who follow Him.

A high school classmate of Ann’s and mine is a grandmother. Her son and a woman he was seeing at one time became parents of twin girls. Today, our friend provides child care for those two little girls four days a week. Sometimes her son and his ex-girlfriend hurt her feelings because they are so ungrateful for the sacrifice she makes for them. They take advantage of her. When people ask her why, in light of the ingratitude, she keeps looking after the little ones, she says that it’s her ministry, her service to Christ. “I pray every day,” she recently told Ann and me, “that God will help me give an example and say words that will point the girls to Jesus.” Sometimes the daily grind with those two children is a daily grind. But Jesus has freed our friend from thinking only about what’s in it for her. She can see a deeper meaning, a greater purpose, in her living and serving. She is living the reality that Jesus frees us from futility and frees us for lives with purpose.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ went to a cross. Although He was perfectly sinless, He bore the weight of our sin on His broad shoulders. Jesus saves all who follow Him by freeing them from sin and freeing them for righteousness; by freeing them from death and freeing them for life; by freeing them from futility and freeing them for lives of purpose. After He died and rose again, Jesus was able to offer everlasting salvation to every member of the human race. He has been changing the lives of those who follow Him ever since. And, living in heaven today, He offers salvation to us even now. In the silence of your hearts, I ask you to pray with me now as we either embrace Jesus’ salvation or reaffirm our desire for this gift in our lives. “Lord Jesus, I turn from sin, death, and futility now. I renounce their power over my life. I ask You to be the Ultimate Authority over me. Help me to live in Your freedom. Save me, to be in a right relationship with You; to live with You forever; and to live each moment with the purpose and meaning only You can give a life. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen”

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Four Things to Tell Children after 9/11

After September 11: Four Things to Tell Our Kids
[I wrote the following for a column I have in a local chain of suburban Cincinnati newspapers right after the horrific events of September 11, 2001. It has also appeared on the web site of recording artist Carolyn Arends,]

The morning after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, my barber, Vickie told me about a conversation she'd had with a young mom the day before. "What," this mother wondered, "do I tell my child?"

In the face of such incredible evil, what do we say to our children? What do we tell each other?

I don't have easy answers to those questions. But let me share a few things I'm saying to children of all ages.

First, we live in a world in which people consumed by evil do evil things. The Bible's New Testament tells us that all of creation groans under the burden of human sin. While most of the time, we're likely to be safe, bad things can and do happen.

One day, God will put all things right. In the meantime, it's the call of Jesus-followers everywhere to share the good news about God's love in the hope that people's hearts, minds, and lives will be changed.

Second: We are loved and helped even in the midst of evil we can't understand. Children need to know that there are people who love them and are doing everything they can to protect them. Hugs and kisses from parents, goodnight prayers, and time spent just talking together are all important means by which we can make children feel safer and more secure.

But even more than having the assurance that people love them, children need to know that God loves them. They need to know that God is bigger than all these horrors and that through Jesus Christ, all who believe in Him can live with a hope that goes beyond death.

Third: We need to give our children a clear picture of Who God is. Some believe that the perpetrators of these attacks were acting "in the Name of God." But if they did, it is a twisted, evil version of God. Martin Luther said that if you want to know Who God is, look to Jesus hanging on the executioner's cross.

The God Who has revealed Himself to the world in the Person of Jesus is a God of infinite love Who, as He was being wrongly condemned and executed, prayed for His enemies. He taught us to love as we have been loved by God. He sacrificed Himself to give us eternity. A God like that would never sanction a plot in which passenger jetliners were turned into bombs, taking the lives of thousands. "God is love," the New Testament tells us. Children need to know that.

There's one other thing I feel is important to share with children right now. Midmorning on
September 11, I got a telephone call from our son, a student at a Christian college. As we were sharing some of our feelings about the day's events, I could hear a rising din behind him. Phil looked out into his dormitory hallway and was told, "We're all going to give blood!" "I gotta go, dad," he immediately said. The entire college community took off for the Red Cross to donate blood they hoped would help people in New York City and Washington, D.C.

While at the blood center, my son was approached by a TV news reporter. Why, the reporter wondered, were Phil and his fellow students doing this? "I'm a follower of Jesus Christ," Philip said, "and He calls us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. That's what I'm trying to do."

Here then is the fourth important thing I feel that we need to share with children today: God specializes in retrieving good from evil. In the face of evil, God inspires His followers to undertake acts of love and compassion. God also helps people who have turned a hardened heart to Him to understand how much they need Him. And God causes people to embrace those who are hurting.

This is the way God works. Two-thousand years ago, the world conspired to snuff out the life of Jesus of Nazareth. His followers, who had felt certain that He was the Savior of the world, were inconsolable. Their world had come crashing down. But Jesus wouldn't stay dead! He rose to life again on the first Easter Sunday and because of that, all who follow Him have a hope that will not stay dead, no matter what happens.

God retrieves good from evil. He will do it again. You can count on it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

What Makes Bono Run?

What Fuels the Ubiquitous Rock Star?
Of course, Irish rock band U2 [] took their name from the U.S. spy plane. But lately, the "U" could stand for ubiquity. Lead singer and lyricist Bono has been everywhere: Bono with President Bush, South African hero Nelson Mandela, and U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill; Bono on a recent cover of Time magazine; and the May issue of Decision, a Christian magazine, found him seated next to Ruth Bell Graham, wife of evangelist Billy Graham, reading Irish poetry.

I suppose most of this hyperactivity would ordinarily be seen as publicity seeking. But in all these recent travels and photo-ops, Bono isn’t promoting his latest project. He's pushing causes: the environment, debt relief for Africa, human rights in Sierra Leone and elsewhere, freedom in Burma, the need for treatment of AIDS victims throughout the African continent. By all accounts, from the President of the United States to officials at the United Nations, Bono is more than just a rock star gadfly. He's well informed and speaks with passion and common sense. Unlike so many self-serving media superstars, Bono seems to believe that he should use his success and celebrity to benefit others.

It had been a number of years since I purchased a U2 project. But I couldn’t help but wonder what was fueling Bono’s passion for his neighbors on Planet Earth and thought that perhaps clues could be found on U2's most recent release, "All That You Can’t Leave Behind." So, I bought the CD.

For a small purchase price, I was richly rewarded with music and lyrics that are great, standouts in an era of repetitive musical brain candy. Bono’s evocative lyrics combine with tremendous musical compostions and musical accompaniment on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind." There are many elements you would expect from a U2 project: Bono’s passionate, rangy vocals and The Edge’s wall-of-sound, frenzied guitar work, for example. But there are musical departures here as well. I admire artists who are willing to change, experiment, and grow. And on this CD, The Edge successfully experiments with his guitar work on a number of cuts.

But the richest rewards to be found on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind" are spiritual. Bono, a professed follower of Jesus Christ, liberally passes out inspiration and plenty of hints about what powers his passion and his compassion. The CD opens with four strong cuts: Beautiful Day, Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of, Elevation, and the anthemic Walk On.

Several other songs rise to the heights of greatness on this CD. The plaintive, Peace on Earth, looks at the human penchant for war and violence and cries out, "Jesus, could you take the time to throw a drowning man a line."

When I Look at the World, is a song clearly addressed to the God revealed to us all through Jesus Christ. The lyrics marvel at the love with which God looks on the world and confesses, "So I try to be like you, try to feel it like you do, but without you it’s no use. I can’t see what you see when I look at the world." Here, Bono agrees with Paul in the New Testament book of Romans, "I know that nothing good dwells within me...I can will what is right, but I cannot do it." If we’re to live with the kind of life, love, and passion to which we all aspire, we can’t manufacture these things on our own. We need to rely on Christ, their author and perfecter.

The CD’s final song is "Grace." Grace is a Bible word. In the original Greek of the Bible’s New Testament, the word is charitas, from which we get the English word, charity. Grace is God’s free acceptance of us and His transformation of all with faith in Christ into His "new creation." Bono most tellingly explains the roots of his passionate sojourn through life in the final words of this song: "What once was hurt, what once was friction, what left a mark, no longer stings because Grace makes beauty out of ugly things."

When God looks at you and me, He sees children He loves and wants passionately to help. That’s what keeps Bono loving his neighbors non-stop. God bless him for the path he’s chosen and God bless U2 for giving us so much inspiration on "All That You Can’t Leave Behind."