The One He Loved

The One Jesus LovedDarkness crept slowly over the rooftops like soldiers preparing to take an enemy camp.  It wouldn’t be long before the night moved down to capture everything on the ground below.

The evening was a success, the height of the holiday season met with dinner with only a few hours notice. Everything fell into place as if divinely prepared.

We’re something of a motley crew. Between our mistakes, pride, and inability to keep our mouths shut, I’m not sure how we’ve managed to stay together this long. Despite our differences, we eventually see what’s really important and then work together.

Dinner over, we headed out for a walk. The thin layer of smoke in the air barely parted as we made our way out of the city. The shadows from our torches danced on the building walls like puppets hanging from strings. Had the Master been in a better mood it would have been a great time for telling scary stories.

Earlier in the day the Master laughed with us like always, but as the night wore on He became more serious than usual. He was preoccupied again with His own death. Peter tried to discourage Him, telling Him we’d never allow it, but He was so certain and very determined. We agreed to protect Him, but He shook His head and walked on.

We went to His favorite place of prayer, singing the great songs of Passover.  Matthew’s strong voice – notice that I said “strong voice” rather than “good voice” – roused our hearts.

The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it . . . God is the Lord, and He has given us light; bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar. You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt You.

While He prayed we stayed behind in the olive grove. We could hear Him crying in agonizing prayer, but it was late, the air warm, and we couldn’t keep our eyes open. Three times He came to stir us from our slumber. We had no idea what was so important. We couldn’t have known what was about to happen. Had we just listened to Him seriously, thing may have gone so differently.

As Jesus woke us that third time, a mob mingled with a cadre of temple guards and priests marched up the pathway. One of our own, Judas, who had left the Passover dinner earlier in the evening, ran up and kissed the Master on the cheek as He led the enemies of the Christ.

Once we figured out what was happening, we did our best to defend Him. We had two swords with us. Peter actually got off the best swipe, cutting off the ear of Malchus. But Jesus stopped us, picked up the bloody ear, and miraculously reattached it. As the crowd stood in silence, He held out His arms and allowed them to be bound. Then we all ran.

Only hours before, we’d each sworn nothing would happen to Him. We promised our lives to protect Him, our word that we would die for Him . . . but now I, John, understand that He had to die for the world, the Innocent for the guilty, God’s Son for the sons of Adam; but more than that, He died for me, the one He loved.

Being Less Evil

3197b6f7004cb4bf8021b31bf6dbc9fcOur return flight from Kenya left us with an 18-hour layover in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Unwilling to sit in the Schiphol Airport and then another 11 hours on the plane back to Oregon, we ventured into the city.

We boarded the crowded train into the heart of old Amsterdam. We transferred to another train and easily found a group of open seats for the three of us in a sectioned off area. The train started up and as I looked around noticed a sign that we were in the first class car. I  imagined being caught by the transit police for riding first class with general class tickets.

I told my wife our problem and that we needed to move to the standing room only second class car at the next stop. A man beside us said, “Who cares? Just say that you’re Americans and didn’t know.” But we did know.

We all want the bad guy to be punished. It’s what he deserves. Evil is evil, whatever the measure; but that also means that my evil is just as bad as the evil of the guy sitting next to me. If he gets punished, I must be punished also.

Hell is the eternal place where God will forever punish each one who has done anything evil.

Hell isn’t avoided by being less evil than someone else; it’s avoided because Someone else took the guilt of your evil and was punished in your place. That Someone was Jesus when He died on the cross.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:14-15).

The World Stood Still

The Day the Earth Stood StillWe all have moments forever etched in our memories. Some are individual events, like the birth of a child or an automobile accident, or those which touch the corporate consciousness. The bombing of Pearl Harbor. The assassination of President Kennedy.

The hot summer of 1974, I was 7-years old and watched as President Nixon resigned as President of the United States. I didn’t know what Watergate was about, but I remember the reaction of Armeda Ashe and the other adults watching.

In 1981, I was in Mrs Beeler’s junior high history class when the school principal announced President Reagan had been shot. There was deafening silence in the room.

What about the morning of September 11th, 2001?  I was getting ready for work when the phone rang. “Do you have the tv on? Turn it on. Turn it on now.”  I sat stunned as smoke billowed from the World Trade Center Tower and then watched the second jet plow through the second Tower.

For days afterward there was eerie silence on the streets. When the government finally lifted the restrictions on air travel, we froze in fear each time a plane flew overhead. My son was 2- years old then, and has no sense of what 9/11 was about. He doesn’t know how much air travel – and the world – has changed because of 9/11.

Every generation has it’s own defining moment, a soul-piercing event that calls it to its knees.

Imagine the day Jesus returns!

Behold, Jesus is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him. And all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of Him. Even so, Amen (Revelation 1:7).

Goat Head Soup

Grace and Glory Church

A goat I was given by two women from the Grace and Glory Church.

I preached all day at the Grace and Glory Church in Kwa-Matingi, Kenya. Pastor Benedict Muendo ordered a goat killed and cooked in my honor.

Americans eat turkey for special occasions; in Kenya it’s goat. The head is boiled into a soup and the honored male guest is served the head and its broth which he shares with the old men. Fortunately for me, the head needed a day longer to fully cook than I was available!

When I was told that we would be eating a goat, my American sensibilities kicked in and I said, “Ewwww! I’ll pass.” We ate the goat like good guests, and greatly enjoyed it once we got past the “ewwww” factor.

There are some groups in the Christian tradition which forbid the eating certain kinds of meat on religious grounds. These groups, like the Seventh Day Adventists, base their beliefs on the Law of Moses given to the ancient nation of Israel (Deut 1:1; 14:3-7).

Through the grace of God given in Jesus, Christians are not bound to the Law of Moses; and the New Testament permits Christians to eat all meats. Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons … commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is set apart by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1, 3-5).

Paul writes that all creatures are good for food because God created all creatures. To reject a certain kind of meat on religious grounds is to reject the goodness of God. As long as the meat is eaten with thanks to the good God who created it, Christians are free to eat … even goat.

*** Click here to see video & photos and hear Kamba music from our 2016 ministry in Kenya.

The Secret of Parables

The Secret of ParablesIf you read here often, yesterday for example, you’ll encounter parables. My parables are the least read and least commented upon of all my blogs. The reason is that many people just don’t understand them.

Jesus often told parables, and in literature He’s considered the master of the parable. There are no less than 65 of His parables recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. One of every three of His words is found within a parable, so parables must be important, but what is a parable?

A parable is a teaching method using a story from nature or ordinary life that conveys a single, simple, spiritual truth. Our problem is that we want to assign meaning to every detail rather than understand the one, simple truth being taught, so we miss the point.

Jesus taught in parables for two reasons: (1) everybody likes a good story, (2) to hide simple truth in plain sight (Matthew 13:13-15).

Here’s an example of a parable from Jesus. The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).

The simple point is this: The new birth is a sovereign work of the Holy Spirit, not of man.

When encountering a parable of Jesus (or me), take this approach: explain the meaning of the parable in your own words, using 15 words or less. If you can do that, you are well on your way to understanding the parable.

So go back and read yesterday’s blog again and put your parable-skills to the test.

To Do Good

SeagullThe lone seagull glided on the same gentle breeze that tussled Barry’s hair. Dragging his feet through the shallow waves like his five-year old son might do made Barry feel young again. This was a perfect Sunday morning for a walk with his short-haired Terrier on the beach while Margaret and the kids slept in. The long days of summer were nearly over as the family wrapped up the last morning of their annual vacation to the Oregon coast.

Over the gentle rush of the waves rolling onto the sand, Barry heard a panicked cry from the surf. He turned and spotted what looked like a young man struggling to keep his head above the white-capped waves. Barry looked up the beach and then back to the lone swimmer.

The cool water hovered around Barry’s bare feet only a few inches below his rolled up Dockers. “Somebody ought to do something,” he thought as he twisted the gold wedding ring on his finger. Again he looked around. It was only himself and the drowning swimmer.

Barry pulled the cell phone from the pocket in his windbreaker and took a selfie as the man bobbed in the background. Neither his wife nor his Facebook friends would ever believe what he’d seen.

To him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin (James 4:17).

Mankind holds us responsible for more than knowing what is right, but also doing what is right to help others in need. God holds us no less accountable.

Waiting and Waiting

Waiting at the airportA Dutch man was hospitalized in July after waiting in a Chinese airport for a woman who never arrived to meet him.

Alexander Cirk, age 41, met a Chinese woman through an online dating site. After two months of conversations, Cirk flew to Hunan, China to meet the woman he expected to marry. During his 10 days waiting in the airport for her, Cirk slept, ate and drank little until he was taken to the hospital and treated for exhaustion.

The Chinese woman thought Cirk’s message of his visit was a joke. While he sat in the airport waiting for her, she underwent plastic surgery.

Christians have the amazing promise from Jesus that He is coming again to receive His people unto Himself. I go to prepare a place for you … I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:2, 3).

While we wait for Him to fulfill His promise, we do not simply sit and wait like Mr Cirk in the airport; we busy ourselves in Christ’s work, preaching the gospel that Jesus died to reconcile sinners to the Father, living each day in His worshipful service.

We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20).

Reminded of the Basics

A beautiful Jersey cow at the Washington County (OR) Fair

The chorus of a favorite hymn reads, Tell me the Old, Old Story of Jesus and His love. 

It’s the time of year when Oregonians visit the county and state fairs and I could spend all day in the cow barns. As we walked through the cow barn at the Washington County Fair, I recalled to my wife and son how as a boy my grandfather would remove his shoes and socks and walk through the cow manure in the barn to warm his feet on a cold day.

I’d barely begun my story when Daniel shook his head and said, I know, I know, I know. You tell this story every time we go to the fair! 

Okay, so I’m getting older and I tend to repeat myself without knowing it, but there’s a power in being reminded of important things.

The Apostle Peter began his second letter describing the importance of spiritual growth. Then he wrote, Therefore I will not be negligent to remind you always of these things, though you know them and are established in the present truth. Yes, I think it is right, as long as I am in this tent, to stir you up by reminding you (2 Peter 1:12-13).

God repeats Himself a lot in the Bible: not because He’s forgetful, but that we’re forgetful. We forget the simple things while racking our brains over the things no one can understand. We need to be constantly reminded of the basics.

The Oregon State Fair is in a few weeks. Daniel, be prepared to hear the same old, old story again when we walk into the cow barn! I don’t want you to forget the simple things.

His Hand

His HandAll day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people (Romans 11:21).

It was Sunday night and I was forced to attend church. As I got in the church van my teenage face showed my displeasure. Katie Shipley, my Sunday School teacher, reached out to comfort me. I pushed her hand away in anger. She responded to my rudeness with a smile. She died a short time later, and for many years after that, I re-lived and regretted my actions of that night.

I’m always impressed with how Jesus always reached out to people. Whether it was to ignorant fools (Acts 4:13), rough-and-tumble fishermen (Matthew 4:18-20), prostitutes (John 8:2-11), the sick and diseased (Luke 5:12-14), the poor (Mark 6:35-42), the social outcasts (Mark 6:35-42), the open-minded religious (John 3), or even one He knew would betray Him (Luke 22:31-34), Jesus always extended a hand of love and understanding.

As Jesus rose from prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, He heard the rumble of a mob and saw the flickering lights of their torches. When Judas leaned in and kissed Jesus, He replied, Friend, why have you come?  (Matthew 26:50).  WOW!!!

Jesus knew why Judas was there. Only hours before He explained exactly what Judas would do (John 13:21-30). When confronted by His betrayer, Jesus still addressed Judas graciously.

You can be sure that I wouldn’t have replied to Judas like that … and neither would you! Yet Jesus, right down to the very end, was still kind and compassionate.

Thinking I can do it on my own, I’ve often resisted His hand stretched out to comfort or help. Still He reaches out as the Lover of my soul.

The Handwriting on the Wall

The Handwriting on the WallA medical intern was told by his instructor that there was only one thing to avoid in the practice of medicine: Death. No matter how forcibly we speak against the Grim Reaper or try to outrun him, he eventually catches us all.

A great king once threw a party for a thousand important guests. Together they ate and drank as if there was no tomorrow. As the party rolled into the night, the drunken king resolved to show off his wealth, parading his gold and silver to the awed praises of the crowd.

Suddenly a man’s hand appeared in dining  hall. It scrawled into the plaster the words, Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. As the hand wrote, the king’s knees knocked together in fear. His advisers, astrologers, wizards, and wise men were stumped by the handwriting on the wall. Finally the king’s mother remembered a man named Daniel who had a gift for interpreting dreams and signs.

Daniel came into the palace as a young man, a Jewish hostage from battle. Upon seeing the words, Daniel immediately knew their meaning.

Mene means that God has numbered your days, and your number is up. Tekel means that you have been measured, and you’ve come up short. Parsin means that everything you have will be divided and given away when you die (Daniel 5:26-28).

That night, the King Belshazzar of Babylon was murdered and everything Daniel said came to pass.

Most of us will never experience an event so dramatic, but each of us must read, and one day face, the handwriting on the wall. One day your number will be up.  You will breathe your last and pass from this world into the next, entering either an eternity in the presence of God or an eternity deposed from Him in a place the Bible calls Hell.

Belshazzar spent the last hours of his life dismissing the future that confronted him. Since neither you nor I know the day or hour of our own death, we must heed the call of Jesus today. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).