Wednesday, May 14, 2003

No Other Name

A Thought for Today:
There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12, New Testament).

A man named Peter, an early follower of Jesus, spoke those words to religious leaders in Jerusalem after he and another Jesus-follower, John, were ordered not to speak of Jesus again. They had also been beaten.

But Peter said that they couldn't help but speak of Jesus, no matter what the threats. Peter persisted in following Jesus because he had experienced Jesus' tough love and because he knew that Jesus had risen from the dead.

The process of dying will cause any person to fear. That's only natural. But the follower of Jesus has no fear about the time beyond the grave. We know that we belong to God forever!

That's why true Christians have always been in the forefront of fighting for what is right. Wilberforce and Newton fought slavery. Tutu combatted injustice in South Africa. Mother Teresa comforted the dead and stood against abortion as a form of birth control. Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church stood against Hitler and the Nazis. Billy Graham has continued to share Jesus Christ with the world in spite of almost constant death threats and the dismissive condescension of elites, both inside and outside the Church. Movements to establish hospitals and higher education have usually begun among those who confess Christ.

In spite of the hatred and threats heaped upon them, followers of Jesus have the "right stuff" to persist. That right stuff is an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ!

Karl Marx criticized religion as an opiate, insulating people from their own pain, preventing them from doing anything about injustice by focusing the religious on the rewards of a sweet by-and-by. Marx got it precisely wrong. Knowing that our eternities are secure gives followers of Jesus the freedom to live this life to the full.

When Archbishop Desmond Tutu fought against apartheid in South Africa, he received daily death threats. A reporter asked him why he persisted. Tutu replied that he couldn't help it; injustice was wrong and he would fight it. Besides, he added, death isn't the worst thing that can happen to a Christian.

God plants within the hearts of those who surrender themselves to Him through Jesus Christ, a love for the things God loves and a hatred for those things God hates. Although such passions will put them at odds with the prevailing values of the world, Jesus-followers will persist. They will, in that memorable phrase of Bruce Cockburn's, rise like grass through cement. Unafraid of death, appalled by the evil they see, they fight for what's right.

The greatest evil in the world is the imprisonment of sin that afflicts the human race. According to Psalm 51, we are born in sin. The Bible says that proper payment for our sin is death (Romans 6:23).

But God doesn't want us to die. He wants us to live with Him forever. That's why Jesus came into the world, lived a perfect and sinless life, died on a cross in our places, and rose from the dead. The most famous passage in the Bible quotes Jesus as He says, 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 (John 3:16).

Do you want to be free from the fears that hold you back and keep you from being all that God intended you to be--all that you know, deep inside, that you were meant to be?

Do you want to be free of those nagging feelings of inadequacy that dog you?

Do you want to experience peace in spite of the chaos?

Do you want to move toward becoming the loving person you dream of being?

Do you want to be confident about this life and the next?

Give your life to Jesus Christ and you will begin to experience these things. You will find yourself free to lovingly fight for what is to act in loving ways toward others, free to enter the process of becoming the person God had in mind when He made you. And you will be unafraid of what is beyond the grave. You will belong to God. Surrender to Jesus Christ today and start truly living!

Monday, May 12, 2003

Continue to pray for healing for Isaac!
Please continue to pray for the people of Iraq and for the US and British military personnel who are there. Pray that God will grant that the occupation of Iraq will benefit the people there. Pray that the military personnel will be safe. Pray also for organizations like CARE and Samaritan's Purse, who are providing relief, asking God to keep them safe and to give their efforts success. Pray also that God will guide the leaders of the US and the UK, along with the leaders of the UN, as Iraq is rebuilt. Ask God also to grant that in the midst of this situation, Americans, Britons, and Iraqis will come to know and follow Jesus Christ, the only hope for our world.
Please keep Pastor Jim Dinkel and his son, Stephen, in your prayers. Jim's wife, Marti, died at 3:45 this morning. Pray that God will comfort Jim, Stephen, and all who mourn with the undying hope that belongs to all who follow Jesus Christ. Pray that God will give them strength, encouragement, guidance, and hope.
Easter After Tremors:
The Shepherd’s Life Style
John 15:1-8

(Shared with the people of Friendship Church, May 11, 2003)

Pastor Gerald Mann tells a true story that happened in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the Second World War. Each day, details of Allied detainees would dig trenches. At the end of each day, the prisoners returned the shovels they’d been using. For obvious reasons, the shovels were then counted by the Japanese. This camp had 300 shovels. But the count at the end of one day was 299. The camp commander lined up all the POWs and said, “One shovel is missing. If the thief doesn’t step forward by the time I count to ten, every single prisoner will be executed on the spot.” But before the commander could begin counting, one prisoner stepped forward and said, “I’m the one who stole the shovel.” The commander cried out the order, “Shoot!” and the confessing prisoner was killed immediately. A short time later, for whatever reason, the shovels were counted again. It was learned that there had been a miscount. There’d been 300 shovels all along. None had been stolen. That prisoner had volunteered his life to save the lives of the other POWs.

I marvel at such stories of heroism and often wonder if, faced with similar circumstances, I would have the courage to lay down for others. According to the Bible, Jesus had that kind of courage. In today’s Bible lesson, Jesus describes Himself as the “good shepherd” and He says:

“The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep [that’s you and me and the whole human family]...”

Jesus’ voluntary death on a cross for us is really even more remarkable than the voluntary death of that POW. The POW was a mere garden variety human being like you and me. Like you and me, he had his faults. He sinned. According to the Bible, every sin we human beings commit—from lying and gossiping to taking God’s Name in vain and committing adultery in our minds—is a capital crime worthy of a death sentence. All of us—even that heroic POW—deserve death. But Jesus never sinned. Not even Jesus’ most implacable enemies were able to substantiate an evil thing He’d ever done. Jesus was both God in the flesh and a human being and the Bible tells us that He faced every trial you and I face in life, yet He did so without sin. But this perfect Savior volunteered to die in place of us on the cross. In another place in the New Testament, we’re told:

"Christ...presented Himself for [His] sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything [for ourselves]...And even if we hadn’t been so weak [from sin], we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put His love on the line for us by offering His Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to Him." (Romans 5, The Message translation)

Amazingly, inexplicably, wonderfully, compassionately, Jesus lays down His life for us. In our lesson for this morning, Jesus says that He lays it down so that He can pick it back up again (something He did on the first Easter Sunday). Having died in our places, Jesus guarantees that all with faith in Him will live with Him forever!

But that leads to a question: Why? Why does God go to all the bother of becoming human, of experiencing in His own body the very worst of human tragedies, absorbing all the poison of human sin, and dying a horrible death? Why does God give rebellious people like you and me a second chance at living with Him forever?

Some of you know my friend, Pastor Ron Claussen. Ron has preached at Friendship’s worship celebrations several times. Ron is wheelchair-bound. This past week, Ron and his wife Jane took a trip and stayed at two different hotels along the way. One was part of a less expensive chain. The other was a slightly pricier and more popular place. For Ron, going to the bath room away from home can be a major challenge. When he stays at a hotel, he has to make sure that he has a bath room where the toilet can accommodate him.

On the first night of their trip, Ron and Jane stayed at the less expensive hotel. When he went to the rest room, Ron immediately got a shock when the cheap plastic toilet seat collapsed under his weight. When Ron checked out the next morning, he told the desk manager what had happened. On the return trip, the Claussens stayed at the same hotel and in the same room. Ron was surprised to find that the toilet seat had not been repaired: instead, the whole thing had been replaced with a far more expensive and sturdily-built model. For three nights of their trip, Ron and Jane stayed at the pricier place. There was a problem with the toilet there as well: the whole thing literally tipped over every time any weight was put on it. The manager at the hotel was told about the problem three different times and never did anything about it! Ron surmises that the guy at the pricier place with the solid national reputation probably couldn’t be bothered with one bad toilet. His hotel rooms were occupied every night. He could afford to have a few disgruntled customers. The manager at the less popular place though, felt a greater need to make a good impression on his customers. He cared.

In today’s Bible lesson, Jesus contrasts Himself as the good shepherd who lays down His life for us with “the hired hand.” He says:

"The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand [Jesus says] runs away because...[he] does not care for the sheep."

Why does Jesus lay down His life for you and me? Because amazingly, inexplicably, wonderfully, compassionately, Jesus cares about us. He cares and so He offers His life so that sinners like you and me can receive forgiveness, be reunited with our Father, God, and start living with God’s eternal power in our lives right now, today!

But if you’re feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, please realize that while Jesus extends His love to you with no strings attached, He does give love to us with certain daunting, almost frightening, expectations. Today is Mother’s Day, a time to honor moms and I do. I know that the mom living in my house is particularly wonderful, so wonderful in fact that she’s made me a better dad than I possibly could have been without her.

A number of years ago, I don’t remember where, I read the true story of a mom who somehow became stranded in her stalled car in the middle of a raging blizzard. It was some time before the local sheriff’s department found this woman and her two little ones. When they arrived, the mother had died, frozen to death. But she had huddled herself and her clothing over the children to protect them and both lived.

Here’s the point: Jesus calls us to care for others as much as He cares for us. Our call is to love selflessly like Jesus and in many different ways, to lay down our lives for others. We’re called to adopt the life style of the Good Shepherd. In another place in the New Testament, we’re reminded:

"...whoever says, “I abide in [Jesus],” ought to walk just as He walked...[and] We know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down His life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another...[and] We love because He first loved us." (These passages can be found in First John in the New Testament.)

It isn’t easy to walk as Jesus walked, to love as Jesus loved. In fact, I can guarantee that this side of heaven, we will never totally succeed in doing that. But God calls us to receive Jesus and then spend our lives on this earth learning what it means to have Him living at the center of our lives. One day, when we see Jesus face to face, the Bible says, “we will be like Him.” (First John 3:2) Until then, as Jesus’ students—that’s what the word disciple means, by the way, student—we’re to spend our lives learning. God wants us to learn what it means to live, serve, and love like Jesus. Jesus calls us to care. When we let Jesus live in the center of our lives and priorities, God works on transforming us into our best selves.

God loves you, as the women’s choral group reminded us a little while ago. But it’s up to you and me to decide whether we’ll let that monumental fact change our lives and effect how we live from day to day. The New Testament book of Ephesians tells us that “God wants us to grow Christ in everything.” Too often, people who call themselves Christians settle on a “what’s-in-it-for-me” mentality when it comes to their faith and involvement with their church. But we need to adopt a “Jesus-loves-me-so-now-I’ll-live-for-Him” style of life. That’s the Good Shepherd’s life style: a life of giving of oneself to God and others, a life of caring about God and others.

You and I have a choice: Will we let Jesus invade our everyday decision making or will we put Him in a box marked, Open Only on Sundays? Will we let Jesus establish our priorities in life or will we go our own ways? Will our faith life consist of one hour in a nice new building once a week or will we let the living Jesus Christ be our constant companion, God, and shepherd? The people you and I know who are really living are the ones who are living off the power of Jesus and His love. They let Jesus into their lives so that they live the life style of the Good Shepherd. With Jesus’ help, that’s how I want to live my life too. How about you?