Thursday, March 31, 2016

Forgiven Witnesses

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Then he said, “When I was with you before, I told you that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and in the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.  And he said, “Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day.  It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of his name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: ‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’  You are witnesses of all these things.   Luke 24:44-48(NLT)

When Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, it took a while for some of them to fully grasp that he wasn’t dead.  I can easily imagine the dropped jaws and that doe-in-the-headlights-look on their faces. 

As the two Emmaus travelers were rehearsing their encounter with Jesus he was suddenly just there!  They thought he was a ghost.  Jesus encouraged them to feel with their own hands the places where nails and a spear had pierced him.  And when they’d been assured they weren’t dealing with a ghostly spectre, but the risen Christ, Jesus then began to help them understand the meaning of everything they’d been through since the day they met him.

In teaching them, it all came down to:

‘There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.’  You are witnesses of all these things.
Luke 24:47b-48(NLT)

Peter would later preach that exact message:

Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away.   Acts 3:19(NLT)

That message hasn’t changed; even today, when sinners repent they are forgiven and become witnesses of the Lord’s love, forgiveness and power.

Throughout the centuries since Jesus’ resurrection and appearance to the disciples, the message hasn’t changed, but it has been blurred at times.  Too often, perhaps in our haste to be released from the penalty of our sins, we slide into accepting forgiveness without genuine repentance.  The evidence of this is the “backslider” – those who have expressed an interest in God, claimed forgiveness, and then live like nothing is changed. 

It makes me wonder if, in our modern era, we did well in doing away with the mourner’s bench.  The “bench,” although a 19th century addition to church life, is actually a throwback to John the Baptist warning those who came to him for forgiveness, to not put the cart of being forgiven ahead of the horse of repentance.  

Repentance always comes first. 

Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. 
Matthew 3:8(NLT)

The bench was a place for seekers to work through their intentions in coming to Christ.  Herschel Hobbs, the great Baptist preacher and speaker on the Baptist Hour for many years was fond of saying:  there’s never been a sin too big for God to forgive, except the unconfessed one.[2]

Now, honestly, I don’t advocate bringing back the mourners bench, because there were abuses by those in power in the church.  Some ministers and church officials used the bench as a shaming tool towards those whom they wanted to control. 

However, we ought not take sin too lightly – and its inherent result which is insulting God’s holiness.  The darkness of our sins should create at least something of a mourner’s caution, if not a public bench; there ought to be solemnity about repentance, which is befitting of that which causes death.  That backdrop of sackcloth and ashes in the one who repents highlights that much more joy when forgiveness births a sinner from death unto life! 

It makes the witness of the resurrection that much more powerful!

For You Today

Did the presence of the living Lord make your jaw drop when you realized your sins could be forgiven?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!

[1] Title Image: William Blake [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
[2] He said four or five times to an early morning study group at First Baptist Church, Crystal River in 1979

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

After the Anger is Done

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry,  

Ephesians 4:26(NLT)

It’s hard….really hard to make sense of the immensity of anger we have seen played out on the world stage in recent years.  There seems to be no end in sight to the news cycles of suicide bombings, terrorist outbursts and hostage situations.  Of late, I pause before turning on the TV to catch the morning news, wondering if I really want to know.  And I turn it on anyway – anxiously wanting to know if another poor deluded soul has pulled the trigger on his detonator.

Growing up in the 1950’s the tempest of World War II and Korea were fading, but the practice drills of hiding under your school desk in the event of a Communist nuclear attack, and the looming specter of Vietnam, ensured you could never quite feel safe.

In the last three decades anger, and its accompanying violence, has moved into schoolyards, market places and seemingly never-ending rounds of blood-splatter on the nightly news.  And, as if watching the results of anger isn’t bad enough when displayed on our 60” TV screens, the current political debate features mirror images of anger and hatred with a kind of “civil terrorism” as Republicans and Democrats pick each other apart.

It’s Cain and Abel without end.

And this leaves me wondering – what happens after the anger?  Really – what happens after the anger is completely spent, and the violence has wreaked its vengeance, and jihad has toppled the Great Satan? 

What then?  To what end will we have come?  And is it really an end?

The theological answer of course, is “no” – it’s not an end, because every act of violence must have its accounting before God.  Nothing is really over until God has spoken.

No amount of killing one another is ever enough to completely satisfy human anger, lust, or greed, whether it is done on the battlefield, or in the board room.  And anger’s backwash of Occupy Wall Street, or Main Street, or blowing-up the train station is just anger on a higher scale of madness.  We are simply playing-out once again the days of Noah, where every person does what he or she wants.

Humankind has not learned much since the fiasco in the Garden of Eden; despite our Smartphones and space exploration, we are still rather inept at getting it, that God isn’t pleased with our anger and selfish ways.  To put it in the words of those highly-revered social commentators of the 1960’s, Sonny and Cher Bono, the beat goes on. 

And the person who has not learned to control his own anger runs the risk of adding to the beat never stopping:

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool.  Ecclesiastes 7:9(NLT)

The fact is we cannot do anything about other people’s anger, or their actions.  We can, however, trust in God and not be demoralized by what we see in a culture that is headed for destruction.

And we can love. 

Jesus said it in so many ways, but the one that speaks strongest to me this morning is this:

But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.  1 John 4:8(NLT)

And this:

“Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul.                 Matthew 10:28a(NLT)

For You Today

Does the crisis news of the day make you angry?  Don’t let the sun go down on it; confront that anger – let God make your heart glad and peaceful.

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!

[1] Title Image:  By Andrew A. Shenouda from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (It's the Holy Week!), via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, March 28, 2016

Dead Men Don't Walk (Do They?)

Monday, March 28, 2016


Then the angel spoke to the women.  “Don’t be afraid!” he said.  “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He isn’t here!  He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen.  Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee.  You will see him there.  Remember what I have told you.”  The women ran quickly from the tomb.  They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message.  And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them.  And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him.  Then Jesus said to them, “Don’t be afraid!  Go tell my brothers to leave for Galilee, and they will see me there.”  As the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and told the leading priests what had happened.  A meeting with the elders was called, and they decided to give the soldiers a large bribe.  They told the soldiers, “You must say, ‘Jesus’ disciples came during the night while we were sleeping, and they stole his body.’  If the governor hears about it, we’ll stand up for you so you won’t get in trouble.”  So the guards accepted the bribe and said what they were told to say.  Their story spread widely among the Jews, and they still tell it today.  Matthew 28:5-15(NLT)

There are times of such earth-shattering importance that your heart pounds when you hear the news.  I’m certain the women running back from an empty tomb could testify to that!  But that noise had hardly subsided before the first conspiracy rumors began.

And Matthew records that (in his day…some 30 years later), they were still telling that lie.  Well, Matthew, tax collector and friend, they’re still telling it today in one version or another.  Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code and its sequels, floating theory upon fantasy about resurrection conspiracy, have made him a very rich man. 

It seems large bribes still work!

It has often just simply amazed me what people in power will do to cover up something that threatens their status quo.  The ruling elders of Israel were evidently so in-love with their position, prestige and power that they hatched the cover-up in the heat of a new crisis brought to them by the guards, over the “missing” body of Jesus.

What’s so interesting is the elders’ dullness.  The centerpiece of Israel’s hope – and what the elders were in charge of preaching – was the coming of Messiah.  And when Jesus showed up, they missed the mark by a mile – they crucified their one reason for existing!

And then they covered it up!

The rationale of the plot was simple enough – dead men don’t walk-off from their tombs!

Or do they?

A simple bit of logic tells us two facts:
          1.     The elders financed the wealthy retirement of the guards who had fallen asleep on the job, so that they would tell a lie.
          2.     The disciples got nothing, but went to early graves defending the truth.

And now, two thousand years later, the truth of the resurrection still makes my heart pound.  I’ve been to any number of church dramatic presentations of the resurrection, preached it for years, and watched all sorts of movies and docudramas on the dead man walking away from the tomb.  Whether the actors are world class or no class, when it comes to the resurrection, my heart leaps into my throat.

It’s something like the end of Spielberg’s movie, E.T.  The little space man has died and is lying in a cryogenic freeze-dryer.  The earth boy, Elliot, who was E.T.’s friend, is crying his heart out.  And suddenly you see E.T.’s heart glow, and you know it’s not over; connection with the mother ship has occurred and E.T. is once more vital and all is well.

This is my connection with the Gospel resurrection fact; no matter how many times I read it, meditate on it, or see presentations of it, the reality of it still makes my heart pound!

For You Today

Meditate on why your heart pounds – isn’t that the sign that life is present?

You chew on that as you hit the Rocky Road today…and have a blessed day!

[1] Title Image:  By Andrew A. Shenouda from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (It's the Holy Week!), via Wikimedia Commons