Saturday, March 30, 2013

Resurrection Realities

 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  (1Pet.1:3)

         Resurrection presumes there has been a death, not the other way around. In this life, resurrection is not a given, but if one has experienced a resurrection, you can be dead sure a death preceded it! I made this seemingly unnecessary observation in order to make another that is profoundly necessary. It’s not the death of Jesus Christ that is the touchstone of His life, and the hallmark of our Faith; it’s His resurrection from the dead. His perfect sacrifice would have been to no avail if that mortally wounded Body had remained in the grave. “And if Christ is not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins” (1Cor. 15:17). If Jesus Christ had not come forth from Joseph of Arimathaea’s tomb, His death would have been of no more consequence than that of the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Him.

         But here’s the thrust of my message of hope for us today: The Resurrection is not only the deciding in eternal life to come, it is the deciding factor in our Christian life today.

 “I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless, I live,” testifies Paul in Galatians 2:20.  And in Romans 6:4, “…like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.”  I ask you, what good is being “dead to sin,” if you’re not “alive unto God” (Rom. 6:11)? Nothing manifested the power of God more than when He allowed His Son—Eternal Life in flesh—to succumb to the dominion of Death, only to snatch Him from its jaws before that Holy One could see corruption (Psl. 16:10 & Acts 13:35). No wonder Paul says He was “declared to be the Son of God with power…by the resurrection from the dead” (Rom.1: 4).
         The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is “a lively hope,” says Peter. It’s all about living, before and after this body is laid in the grave. The power that raised Jesus from the grave will do the same with mine (1 Cor. 6:14). As the old Puritan, Thomas Watson, once said, “We’re more sure of rising from our graves than our beds!” But this power does not lie dormant within me till that day; it’s a living hope, ready to spring to my aid as I endeavor to live for God in a wicked and perverse world. And by the grace of God, I intend to use it!

The only thing that keeps Good Friday from being “Bad Friday” is Resurrection Sunday!

Thursday, March 28, 2013


“And they all forsook him and fled.” Mark 14:50

         On the night before his Crucifixion, Jesus stood before Caiaphas, the high priest, and was questioned about His disciples (Jno. 18:19). If He was this great spiritual leader, where were all his faithful followers? Good question. As a matter of fact, they had all forsaken Him. Two of them were within hearing distance (vv. 15-17), but they were not offering any rebuttal to the accusations being made against Him or giving witness of the miracles they had seen Him do. One of them was denying Him, openly and vehemently. Yet Jesus refused to name any of His disciples, telling Caiaphas that nothing had been done in secret, and all he had to do was ask those who had seen and heard Him speak. This would have been a good place for those two disciples to speak up, but it was not to be.

         Even worse, as this sinless Man hung on a shameful, torturing cross, the final and most devastating show of rejection came from the One of whom it was said, “When my mother and father forsake me, then the LORD will take me up”(Psl. 27:10). In order for your sins and mine to be forgiven and obliterated, and in accord with the enormity of our those transgressions, it was necessary for His eternal, heavenly Father to turn His back on Him. But the Man on the Cross, who was tempted in every possible way you and I can be tempted (Heb. 4:15), did not suffer this denunciation as the All-knowing God, but the heartbroken, obedient Son.

I have often heard it said or preached that Satan considered the Cross a triumph, but I tend to agree with C.S. Lewis, who, in The Screwtape Letters, portrayed it as a time of horror for him, because, as the elder devil, Screwtape, tells his young nephew, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s (God’s) will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” We read in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” And the obedience and death included being forsaken by all…even His Father.

         When you and I feel forsaken and alone, we can know that Jesus, our Great High Priest in Glory, has suffered it all before us, and can sympathize in a way no one else can, especially when we feel forsaken by God, as David did (Psl. 22:1). Our sin may separate us from God for a time, but He can never forsake us. The rejection of His Son on the Cross provided eternal acceptance for us. Bless His Name!

         Tell me; are you and I capable of temporarily denying and forsaking the Lord, as the disciples did? I don’t know about you, but I don’t judge my devotion to Him to be any greater than theirs. When we allow His name and His Word to be sullied or slandered, are we not quaking outside Caiaphas’ palace just like those two disciples?

When I was a girl, the choir used to sing an old song with these simple, but searching words:

They tried my Lord and Master,
With no one to defend;
Within the halls of Pilate
He stood without a friend.

The world may turn against Him,
I’ll love Him to the end,
And while on earth I’m living,
My Lord shall have a friend.

I’ll do what He may bid me;
I’ll go where He may send;
I’ll try each fleeting moment
To prove that I’m His friend.

To all who need a Savior,
My Friend I recommend;
Because He brought salvation,
Is why I am His friend.

         I’ll be a friend to Jesus,
         My life for Him I’ll spend;
         I’ll be a friend to Jesus,
         Until my years shall end.
                                                               - Johnson Oatman, Jr. 1922

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Voice of Satan

“And Jesus answered and said unto him, “Get thee behind me, Satan…” – Luke 4:8

         Jesus recognized who it was that was addressing him and did not hesitate to call him by name. I wonder if you and I have the same discernment to recognize Satan as the author of a thought or suggestion that presents itself to us; and if so, do we have the same audacity to rebuke him for it? We should. The same Spirit of God that filled the Man, Christ Jesus and gave Him grace to overcome His Arch-enemy (4:1) abides within us too (Rom. 8:11). We may withstand that wicked one with the armor of defense that God has provided (Eph. 6); but there are times when we need to strike a personal, verbal blow to him, and the sharper our sword, the more debilitating the blow. In other words, the Word of God, our two-edged Sword is not only given to comfort and instruct us, but as a personal weapon of offense for the child of God living in enemy country. And it’s up to us to keep it in mint condition, sharpening it daily.

         But I wonder if you ever noticed that our Lord spoke these same words later on in His earthly life, this time not to the devil, but to a friend: “But when he turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan…” (Mark 8:33a). Get this straight; no one loved the Lord more than Peter did, and no one agonized more when he failed Him. But when he rebuked Jesus for speaking of His already predicted death, Jesus recognized the words as coming straight from Satan through the mouth of his misguided, overzealous disciple. Just as “the Lord put a word in Balaam’s mouth” in Numbers twenty-three, Satan put a word in Peter’s mouth. His motivation may have been benign, but his reasoning was worldly, not spiritual, as the Lord pointed out in the rest of the verse. And Jesus recognized immediately the true source of those words. He’d heard him before.

         Now, here’s something I think you and I should take away from this. Just because someone who loves us and only wants our best is speaking, we cannot rule out the possibility that the words are coming from Satan. I know this is “a hard saying,” but to think that our precious loved ones and friends are more dedicated to Jesus Christ than the apostle Peter was, is to be ignorant of Satan’s devices in the worst way (2 Cor. 2:11b). This is not to say that we should confront such an individual with the words of Jesus (!); but we can certainly pause, pray, discern, and if need be, strike a blow against the real author of the words, if not the mouth that spoke them. It’s too important. Today’s society considers interacting, intervening, and yes, intruding into the lives of those around us to be a virtue, the result being that advice is one of the easiest commodities to come by. And the greater the number of voices, the more likely you and I are to be bombarded with the wrong kind. The speaker may or may not be well meaning, but the fact remains, Satan is capable of using any one of them to get his diabolical message to us…even a friend or loved one.

Jacob accepted the words of a loved one because of his feelings…and was deceived. (Gen. 27:22)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Defusing Depression

“Why art thou cast down, O my soul: and why art thou disquieted within me: hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” – Psalm 42:11

         When the Psalmist expressed these words there were no trained counselors nearby to whom he could vent his feelings of depression and anxiety (“disquieted”), so he was forced to take them to God. Poor man! You and I, on the other hand, have the advantage of sympathetic friends or systematic therapy to which we can turn when we’re faced with these feelings. Far better, right? Not so much. It’s like everything else; to get the right answer, you need to go the right source.

         I would suggest that this man’s question was rhetorical. He was not embarking on a journey of self-discovery, trying to trace the genesis of his misery. It’s like when you or I miss a turn on a much-traveled path and say to ourselves, “Why did I do that?” We don’t begin to question our mentality or suspect a deep-seated aversion for that particular turn. We put it down to daydreaming or just plain inattentiveness. The Psalmist didn’t waste time looking for a reason for his depression. He made a beeline for the source of the remedy. And that brings me to the crux of my warning for us today.

Be careful of things you turn to when you’re depressed. They’re substitutes at best, and potential chains at worst.

         I am well aware that we’re to bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2), and that includes comforting those who are cast down, as Titus did for Paul and his co-workers (2 Cor. 7:6). And I know the Old Testament speaks of giving “wine unto those that be of heavy hearts” (Pro. 31:6). But both of these illustrate my assertion. In the case of burdens, a few verses later in Galatians six, Paul lets us know that when all is said and done, every man will bear his own burden. And it goes without saying that anything (like wine) that is capable of changing our mood can easily become a devastating chain of dependence in our lives.

         I noticed in my Bible several years ago that this verse in Psalms says that God is the “health of my countenance.” He isn’t just the God of physical health, He’s the God of mental health, as well. I understand there are those whose depression is physical, and I would not fault anyone like this for using whatever means they must to alleviate its ravages. But for all the rest of us who are “cast down” by depression from time to time, I would prescribe the Psalmist’s remedy: Hope in God and believe that you’ll soon be praising Him for deliverance. If He can raise the dead, He can raise your spirits. If He can quiet a demon-possessed maniac, He can soothe all your anxieties.       

         Here’s a something to remember: “…he is the health of my countenance…” When God is our hope, it shows on our face!”  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Springtime of the Soul

“And it came to pass that on the morrow Moses went into the tabernacle of witness; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.” – Numbers 17:8

         We live very near the central part of California called the “bread basket.” This time of year, as you travel the back roads and highways, you’ll see rows and rows of produce showing the first signs of growth. One of the most beautiful manifestations of this is the plethora of fruit and nut trees. This is because of the heralding blossoms of pink and white. Forty-two percent of the world’s almonds are grown and produced here. Almonds are not really nuts but the seeds from a fruit that looks very much like a peach. They are perhaps my favorite “non-nut,” and I usually keep a container on my counter so I can pop a few in my mouth from time to time. But it’s the blossoms that I want to take note of today, and the thoughts of springtime that they conjure up in our minds.

         Just as there are seasons of life (Eccl. 3:1), there are seasons of the soul, I think. There is summer, when we toil in the heat of day; fall, when we ponder our own mortality; winter, when we seem to withdraw within ourselves and hibernate; and spring, when we “wake up,” as it were, with anticipation and exuberance. These seem to repeat themselves in our Christian lives, but would we not all love to live in perpetual springtime? Of course, that wouldn’t be life, but I wonder if we provide the right conditions, we wouldn’t see springtime in the soul more often. 

         For instance, a blooming plant has a root (Isa. 27:6; Matt. 13:6). That’s a given. Things that aren’t alive don’t blossom or grow. And neither do people. But even trees that are alive may not blossom and fruit every year. There are things conducive to blooming. It helps to be planted in a good place; and as Psalm 92:13 says, “Those that are planted in the house of the LORD shall flourish in the courts of our God.”  Then you need light (Psl. 119:05); water (Eph. 5:26; and warmth (Jer. 23:29a). Unless the Word of God is a regular staple in your life, don’t expect anything but a withering soul. There needs to be some pruning, too (Jno. 15:2) We have to be willing for God to cut away those things in our lives that keep us from budding and blossoming, if we ever want to bring forth fruit to His glory.

         Springtime is a joyful time, like a new beginning. Isaiah 35:2, speaking of the desert, says: “It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing…” It looks like spring where I live, and there are blossoms everywhere, and some of them will bring forth fruit. But this spring, like every spring, will evolve into a hot, dry summer followed by the time of falling leaves and rain, then hibernation and chilling winds. Oh, but the joy of the Lord in my heart can blossom long after outward conditions have deteriorated! When your springtime goes all the way down into your soul, you can say with the prophet:

“Although the fig tree shall not blossom; neither shall the fruit be in the vines…Yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  (Hab. 3:17)