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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Book Nook

Every so often, I will post some thoughts about the books that I'm reading.

Beyond Band of Brothers: The War Memoirs of Major Dick Winters, by Richard Winters and Cole Kingseed.

If you liked the HBO Series Band of Brothers, and read Stephen Ambrose's book that inspired it, this book is the logical "next read." It covers the same stuff in Ambrose's book but adds the stories left out. If you like war memoirs, this is a must-read. If you want to know about leadership, and learn how to be a leader, than this is also a must-read. This is my main book right now, and it is fascinating. As we get further and further away from World War II and the heroic men and women who fought this war, we need books like these (and the work of people like Tom Hanks, Steven Speilberg and Stephen Ambrose) to remind us of "where we've been." The best part of this book is how Dick Winters is adament that his qualities of leadership were profoundly shaped by family and faith. He makes a point several times to reiterate how important it was during the the war that he attended church every week (when possible).

Raising Dad, by Thom S. Rainer and Art Rainer.

My boys gave this book to me for Christmas, and I've been reading a little at a time. The concept is interesting - what fathers & sons learn from each other. I'm certainly interested in that! But I haven't gotten far enough to really give a good review.

Every Man's Marriage, by Steve Arterburn and Kenny Luck with Mike Yorkey.

I really get a lot out of the "Every Man" series - I've read Every Man's Battle and Every Man God's Man. This book is candid about how one man practically killed his marriage and how Christ brought it back to flourish and grow. I'm about half-way through it. More on this later.

First Man: The Life of Neil A. Armstrong, by James R. Hansen.

This is the authorized biography of the first man on the moon. It is a well written biography. I was disappointed in learning more about the man Neil Armstrong, who comes across as an apathetic agnostic when it comes to God and things spiritual. He certainly had confidence in himself as an engineer and pilot. Like Beyond Band of Brothers, books like this are important as we get further and further away from the events that shaped our country and our culture.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Eternal Life Now

John’s Gospel begins with the most famous conversation in history – and our key verse John 3:16. And it practically ends with Nicodemus again, this time witness to all that Jesus promised years earlier that fateful night.

Nicodemus doesn’t indicate why he visited Jesus that fateful night. But Jesus certainly would have known (as the Son of God he’s omniscient). And I think we can take Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus as the answer to the question or questions that Nicodemus had for Jesus.

What Nicodemus wants from Jesus is the same thing that many of us want. This morning, let’s take a look at some of these questions and the answers that Jesus and His resurrection give us.

1. See the Kingdom of God.

Nicodemus – as a Pharisee – was passionate about the Kingdom of God. He had dedicated his whole life to finding out more about the Kingdom of God and how he could be a part of it in a more intimate way than just being a religious person. Who better to learn more about the Kingdom of God than from “a teacher come from God” (John 3:2 ESV)?

So we too can find the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ. We are searching for purpose in this life. We are looking for something we can give our heart to. What’s been the missing element of your marriage? What’s missing that makes school worthwhile? What can fill the void in your heart? It’s the Kingdom of God that Jesus brings!

2. Eternal life begins right now, in this world.

Jesus tells Nicodemus, “whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God” (v. 21). The Light gives us eternal life. The Light is Jesus Himself. This is a little play on words on Jesus’ part. Nicodemus comes at night – literally in the dark – to hear that Jesus has brought light into the world.

The light shines out of the empty tomb. And the empty tomb shows us that the grave is now the gateway to paradise – eternal life in heaven. But note this well – Jesus didn’t go directly to heaven after he rose from the dead. He visited his friends – walking and speaking with them on the road to Emmaus, bringing peace to them in the upper room, offering his scars to Thomas, encouraging and calling Peter to “feed my sheep.”

Eternal life in paradise has been opened and offered to us through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But paradise is the “not yet” of the light that shines from Jesus’ empty tombs. The “now” part of it is that we are still here in this world. Walking, talking, offering Jesus’ scars to others, carrying on Peter’s calling to feed Jesus’ sheep.

In other words, eternal life begins right now. It isn’t something for later. We cannot do whatever we want to do and “get to that Jesus stuff later.” Many people certainly do. They are lied to by Satan and their own “Old Adam” that there will be plenty of time for all that later. “Now is the time to live for yourself,” Satan whispers to us.

But if you listen to this lie, you will miss out on so much. Yes, it is true that death bed converts and life-long saints enter heaven through the same door – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But Christ died and rose again not just for your eternal life in heaven, but for you abundant life now!

As you contemplate the empty tomb, hear these words of Jesus again, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 ESV).

You can have life now. A life of purpose and meaning. And here’s how. Join a small group study here at Redeemer. Or start one of your own. For the past six weeks, we’ve had eight small groups meet just about every week. Many of them are going to continue to meet. Join one of these small groups as they continue to use the Bible to open up their lives to what Jesus has brought- “Life to the full.” Starting next week, we’ll have the small groups posted on the bulletin board and on the website. Several of the small groups are going to be starting “Sensory Bible Studies” that will involve all five senses in a study of a book of the Bible. Join one of these small groups or start one of your own.

I’ll close with this thought from Max Lucado.

We who follow Christ do so [because he’s been where we are going]:

He’s been to Bethlehem, wearing barn rages and hearing sheep crunch. Suckling milk and shivering against the cold. All of divinity content to cocoon itself in an eight-pound body and to sleep on a cow’s supper. Millions who face the chill of empty pockets or the fears of sudeen change turn to Christ. Why?

Because he’s been there.

He’s been to Nazareth, where he made deadlines and paid bills; to Galilee, where he recruited [dock workers] and separated fighters; to Jerusalem, where he stared down critics and stood up against cynics.

We have our Nazareths as well—demands and due dates. Jesus wasn’t the last to build a team; accusers didn’t disappear with Jerusalem’s temple. Why seek Jesus’ help with you challenges? Because he’s been there. To Nazareth, to Galilee, to Jerusalem.

But most of all, he’s been to the grave. Not as a visitor, but as a corpse. Buried amidst the cadavers. Numbered among the dead. Heart silent and lungs vacant. Body wrapped and grave sealed. The cemetery. He’s been buried there.

You haven’t yet. But you will be. And since you will, don’t you need someone who knows the way out?

God … has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…. He destroyed death, and through the Good News he showed us the way to have life that cannot be destroyed. (1 Peter 1:3 NIV; 2 Tim. 1:10 NCV).

[Max Lucado, 3:16 The Numbers of Hope, (Nashville, TN, Thomas Nelson, Inc. 2007), 122]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16

God loves. God gave. We believe. We live.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Heaven

Last time I talked about hell. Now I’ll go in the other direction – heaven.

Max Lucado says in the 3:16 workbook, “God, inherently holy, must exclude evil from His new universe.”

That’s one way of looking at heaven.

Another way is: All God. All the time.

What do we know about heaven?

Jesus has gone there to prepare a place for us.

It seems to be “up” (Jesus’ ascended into heaven).

We know what it won’t be from Revelation.

Who goes there?

Mark 16:16 is clear – “He who believes and is baptized will be saved.” John 3:16 elaborates on this – “for God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Heaven’s citizens are there because they believed in the one and only Son of God.

What happens there?

Singing.

Praising.

Worshiping.

Living.

Is there good news?

If by worshiping we mean what happens here, then maybe not! The Good News is that we will live there. I mean "live" in the sense of really living life to the fullest.

What does this mean for you?

We need to know two things:

1. Are we going to heaven. How can we know for sure?

2. If we know for sure, what do we do in the mean time?

All God. All the time. This is life now and life forever. But we haven’t even scratched the surface of what that means. I hope you’ll want to find out. This week we’ll have a chance to understand the depth of God’s love for us and that will help us get a better picture of heaven.

Hell

Hell is a reality. Jesus talks about it. Jesus warns us of it.

But we casualize hell.

We trivialize hell.

We dismiss hell.

All to our peril.

What do we know about hell?

It is a geographical place (topos) that can be gone to.

It is a place that lasts forever.

It is a place that God choose not to be.


Hell is where the rebellious is forever separate d from God. We simply do not know what that feels like. Take the time when you have felt most alone. That’s not even a fraction of what it must be like to not have God around – for even when you feeling the most lonely, God is there loving you. Not in hell.

Who goes there?

It was designed for Lucifer and the angels that followed him in rebellion.
It will be a place that those who reject Christ will go.

What happens there?

Torment never ends. It will be a place where people are at their worst all the time. It will be a place of fear and pain that never knows any rest or reprieve. Jesus talks about a “worm that does not die” and “a fire that does not go out.” Those who go to hell will spend an eternity at their worst

“Death freezes the moral compass. People will remain in the fashion they enter.” (Max Lucado, 3:16)

(Rev 22:11) Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy….

Hell is not a correctional facility – there is no reprieve. It isn’t designed to transform a person – indeed it cannot.

(Rev 16:9) They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursed the name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.


Notice the rich man in hell in Jesus’ parable in Luke 16.

(Luke 16:24) And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.'

He didn’t even ask for reprieve! He only asked for relief. His heart was hard even before he went to hell – and the fires of hell didn’t melt it any! He was selfish in life and was still thinking only of self in hell!

Is there good news? Yes!

Christ went there so we don’t have to.

On the cross, Jesus suffered hell for us. He was completely abandoned by God – as He cries out “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?”(Matthew 27:46).

Christ’s death and resurrection saved us from hell.

After Jesus’ death, He did descend into hell – the physical location. But not to suffer; rather to bar entry forever and for everyone.

Which isn’t to say no one is going to hell. I am saying that God sends no one to hell. Those who go to hell go on their own free will.

What does this mean for you?

God takes this seriously. So much so that He sent His one and only Son. Jesus’ death takes our sin away – giving us the power to accept God – to choose to live with God by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Without Christ, hell is the only choice that can be made. So we have to tell people that there is another way –but only by Christ and His epic sacrifice.

We need to take this seriously. We need to not shy away from it. And “we need to ask God to help us be ambassadors of joy to people who are living with fear and dread.”

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Power of Together

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. - Helen Keller

Some of the more famous thoughts on this subject:

We must, indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately. - Benjamin Franklin

Great things are not done by impulse, but a series of small things brought together. - Vincent Van Gogh

We gather together as a brothers and sisters in Christ to reach, teach, and nurture a thirsty world with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We could do this separately, but we could do so much more together! We have a school ministry because we work together.

And this is good.

But there is something that we cannot do together or separately.

the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness” - Romans 4:5

We are saved by God alone, through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet, He loves us so much that He teams up with us – He works together with us. Not in salvation, but what comes after salvation – living! God is the strength of our team. Just like in Team Hoyt.

[note: here I used a video from sermonspice.com about Team Hoyt - a Father-Son running and triathlon team]

God is the strength of our team.

God is the only strength of our team.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through m.” - John 14:6

And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. - Acts 4:12

This doesn’t sit well with people. We want to be tolerant, and there is nothing wrong with that. But this tends to lead us to be inclusive and there is something wrong with that – it isn’t the truth and the consequences are deadly – eternally deadly.

Salvation is exclusive – there is only one road. There is only way to be saved. Just as there is only one way that Rick Hoyt can cross the finish line of each race, there is only one way that we can finish the race we are in – and that is through the power of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ for us.

Now is your time. It will be very liberating when you finally give up your ideas of self-reliance and self-preservation. As Max Lucado says, you can’t save you. Turn to God and live the life He intends for you – a life of freedom from sin, death and the power of the devil.

Because of Jesus’ death, you can live.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Believe versus Faith

I used to love to fly on airplanes. That is, until I was about 16 years old. We flew into Denver over Christmas break to go skiing and winds knocked the plane just before we landed. Since then I’ve been pretty apprehensive about putting my life in the hands of a pilot I never even get to see.

I have to believe that the pilot knows what he is doing; that he is competent and confident in what he does up there behind that locked door. I also have to believe what I’ve read about air pressure, the shape of a plane’s wing, and lift and propulsion and everything else that goes into lifting a 190 ton plane – with me in it – off the ground. What kind of food, what movie, how friendly the crew is, and its on-time stats are pretty far down the list of my reasons to trust a plane. It comes down to this – I have to believe that the pilot knows what he’s doing and that the plane is going to do what was designed to do before I get on it.

Do you see that this is more than mere acknowledgment that a plane flies? This is more than just believing a pilot knows how to fly a plane. This is faith.

In James 2:19, we read about the difference between belief and having faith.
Many people say, “I believe in God.” May people say, “I go to church regularly” (which most of the time means once every month or so).

But even if you go every week, this kind of belief is not enough. James makes the point that demons “believe in God.” In other words, they know God exists and they know who God is.

Our relationship with God is more than just acknowledgment of belief. It is placing our trust in Him.

Max Lucado sums up John 3:16 as
God loves.
God gave.
We believe.
We live.


We all have moments of disbelief, doubt and concern. And that’s not really living, is it?

We have these moments especially when something very bad happens that shakes the very foundations of our world.

Mary and Martha had that experience when their brother Lazarus died. From this story we see belief displayed by Martha and by Thomas.

Thomas’ belief – that Jesus had infuriated the Jewish leaders so much that they wanted to kill Jesus. Jesus going to Bethany would be the end. His belief was such that he was willing to go with Jesus to die.

Martha’s belief – that Jesus could do anything and that Lazarus would rise on the last day.

Belief today – “I believe in myself.”
“I believe in insert name here.”

But there’s a stronger, more reliable belief that Jesus Christ Himself offers to you.
So many people think that Jesus was a great teacher. That He was a merciful man. That He was popular martyr.

But belief in that Jesus only takes you so far. It doesn’t take you all the way to where you want to go. Martha would have found that out. Thomas would have found that out. They believed in Jesus, yes. But Jesus was going to take them to another level of belief. He was going to take them on an adventure like they’ve never could imagine – and He is going to take us on the same journey of faith!

Jesus is the Son of God who was sent by God to save the world because He loved the world. Jesus Christ died on the cross for you. He took your sins, your sinful heart, and gave you His perfect heart.

Are you ready for this kind of belief? There are some who just aren’t. They are comfortable where they are now. But the kind of belief, that kind of faith in Jesus Christ who died and rose again for us, takes us to is levels of living that is uncomfortable and scary for those not prepared for it. Step off in faith. Jesus has got you!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hyper Jesus

Hyper Jesus. I don’t mean a hyper-active Jesus. Like my friend Eric who was wiry, excitable, couldn’t sit still, spoke a-mile-a-minute. Of course, he also put sugar on his fruit loops every morning for breakfast.

No, we have a Hyper Jesus – υπέρ being the Greek word that means “for” or “on behalf of.” This is what Jesus Christ did. He died for us. He died in our place. He died for our sins.

But this is the part I struggle with. I know it’s true. But I feel that I don’t feel the way I should about this. That it doesn’t really change my life in any drastic way. That’s my fear.

However, St. John says, “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18). So, to overcome this fear of mine, let’s look at the only perfect love there is.

John recorded Jesus saying, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That is perfect love – that Jesus died for his friends that means you and me.

Max Lucado wrote in 3:16, “Jesus issues decrees, not opinions; commands, not suggestions. They are truth.”

It isn’t someone’s opinion that Jesus loves. It is a declaration of truth.

Jesus love for me and for you is truth. As we let that truth sink in through meditation and devotion in addition to weekly worship, it changes our lives, it transforms our lives.

We will want to 1) share this love and 2) love in the same way.

A woman gave one of her kidneys to a stranger—a significant gift, but she didn’t receive the diseased kidney back in her body. If you’ve signed the organ donor box on your DL, or you have ever donated a kidney, part of your liver, or a lung, or even just donated blood, you’ve got an inkling of the love Jesus as for you.

But this is still just an inkling and a donation. It isn’t an exchange. You don’t get bad blood, or a diseased kidney in exchange for the good you donate.

Jesus commands us to love each other. John records this in John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”

Lucado further writes, “Jesus gave His perfect heart to a world full of strangers. But He received the diseased hearts as His own and died for them. Christ exchanged hearts with you. More than pardoned, we are declared innocent. We enter heaven not with healed hearts but with Jesus’ heart!”

Before we get to heaven with our new heart, Jesus wants us to use it here. How? By loving one another. There’s a great picture of this in the Gospel of John – Jesus washing the feet of the disciples.

Can you wash someone’s feet today? Maybe not literally, but by loving them with Jesus’ love; with Jesus’ heart?

Maybe the place to start is with yourself. Overcome the fear that you may have like mine and let the love of Jesus cast out your fear.

Lord, I get it. You love me. Seeing everything—every shortcut, every stumbling step, every day I am stuck in the mire of self-doubt and worry. You love me. And there’s nothing I can do that will change Your love. Not illness, rebellion, self-induced loneliness, or even my questions. Nothing! You love me. Though I long to earn Your love, even then, Your love marches on! Even when I fail, You love me. Jesus, I realize that You didn’t die to make me better. You died because You love me. And Your love is enough. Yes, it’s enough to carry me. It is enough to redeem me. Not salvation by me. Salvation for me. Because You love me. [ prayer from the 3:!6 The Church Experience workbook]

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