A Memorial

The Altare della Patria to King Victor Emmanuel II in Rome, Italy taken by RLR 2017

The Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” (First Corinthians 11:23-25).

Humans are monument builders. It’s in our nature to build memorials by which to remember. We hew stone and shape metals meant to outlast time and the frailty of human memory. Whether they be tombstones, statues, or buildings, these monuments are left as permanent memorials to events and people worthy of honor.

Over time, our memorials may become objects of near worship. The Tomb of King Victor Emmanuel, your grandmother’s Bible, a dead child’s bedroom, the American flag, all are monuments of near sacred value in the minds of many. We are prone to the worship of the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25).

Yet Jesus, on the night before His crucifixion, did something unthinkable. He established a memorial of things perishable: bread and the fruit of the vine. Left in the elements for only a few days, bread becomes stale and fruit of the vine grows mold. They were not memorials intended by Christ to become venerated objects but perishable symbols of the Eternal One who Himself is hallowed.

Jesus left us to consider: As often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes (First Corinthians 11:26). As long as the Church partakes of the Lord’s Supper, the perishable memorializes the Saviour who died, arose, and is coming again.


Your Hometown

There is nowhere in the world of memories like your hometown.
Your hometown is the place you were born and grew up. It’s where you learned the value of friendship, the pain of first love, the disappointments of failure, and the stories of life.

Your hometown is riding bikes on tree-lined streets on hot summer days, fishing in the creek, and camping under the stars in a backyard tent of bed sheets. It may be a girl’s first kiss or her first home run and a victory Oreo Blizzard at the corner Dairy Queen. Sunday school picnics and snow angels on the sidewalk.

Some young men answer the call of duty, leaving their lives on a battlefield while their bodies find their final rest back home. Others leave chasing dreams and adventure, not returning home until news calls them to stand alongside a casket at a freshly dug grave.

A hometown is as much a story and a time as it is a place. It’s where, as the years pile higher one upon another, the fondness for and yearning to return grows deeper and more powerful. It’s an invisible drawing, like a child to a kite or the morning dew to an open field.

CS Lewis wrote, “The fact that our heart yearns for something Earth can’t supply is proof that Heaven must be our home.

The longer I live, the more sure I am that I was not made for this world. I long to be with the One for whom I was created. The sin in the world afflicts my soul like it did Lot in Sodom. Even more unbearable is the evil and unfaithfulness I know lurks in the hidden places of my own heart. Nothing but total and absolute freedom from my own self will do.

Christian, this world is not your home. For our citizenship is in Heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20).

Three Crosses

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but made alive by the Spirit (1 Peter 3:18)

It was Friday morning, and the Roman governor of Judea was feeling the pressure. Pilate didn’t want to condemn Jesus, but gave in to political pressure. Rather than doing what was right, Pilate went against the advice of his own wife and did what was convenient for himself and his future (Mt 27:19; Jn 19:8).

Pilate released to the Jews a well-known terrorist named Barabbas (Mt 27:15-17; Lk 23:25; Jn 18:40). Barabbas was more than a convicted robber; he was also a notorious murder and terrorist. He was, as the saying goes, guilty as sin.

That Friday, three crosses were erected on the highway leading into the Jerusalem. Barabbas and two other robbers were set to be crucified for their crimes.  Now guilty Barabbas had been set free and the innocent Jesus of Nazareth would take his place. The Perfect would die for the imperfect, the Righteous in the place of the guilty, the Holy One and the Just for a murderer (Acts 3:14).

Imagine that a vile, guilty, condemned sinner named Barabbas would go free, while a Substitute would die on the very cross built for Barabbas.

The Bible says that The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). There is no way around the penalty for sin. A Just God must see that justice is meted out.

Like Barabbas, you and I are guilty as sin. We must receive the penalty of eternal death unless an innocent substitute is willing to take our place.

When Jesus died on the cross, He died in the place of every guilty sinner. All the sinner must do is believe that Christ’s death fulfilled the transaction of the guilty for the Innocent. Faith in Christ and His work alone – without any addition of our own effort – saves the sinner.

This message of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, is the consistent story of salvation in the Bible from Adam to Noah, from Abraham to David, from Barabbas to you.

Three crosses. One was meant for you, but Jesus took your place. Believe on Him today. This is the Good News of God’s salvation

My Paul – Dr Raymond Cox

Dr Raymond L Cox – 1998

Once a week Daniel and I drove to the Baptist Manor, a retirement home for impoverished pastors and missionaries so I could visit my childhood pastor, mentor, and friend, Dr Raymond Cox. He was my “Paul” and he called me “Timothy.”

While Daniel roamed the building visiting all his “grandmas and grandpas”, Raymond and I would talk about current events. He always asked how things were going in my church, then we’d discuss church history or open a Bible and argue over some theological idea. He’d traveled the world preaching and teaching. He even preached in Moscow, Russia during the height of the Cold War. As a fellow of the Royal Geographic Society in London, he was hired to re-trace and write about the footsteps of the Apostle Paul’s first two missionary journeys. He was the most brilliant man I’ve ever known, a church historian and theologian par excellence.

On my last visit with Raymond, he was laying in the bed asleep, heavily sedated with morphine. He was dying of cancer. I sat next to his bed and held his hand. He never opened his eyes, moved, or acknowledged my presence. It was okay.

When it was time to leave, I got up, brushed the thin, twisted hair from Raymond’s eyes, kissed his forehead and said, “Goodbye Paul.” I told him I’d miss him, but that he’d run his race, finished his course, and he could go to be with Jesus. Then I turned and walked away.

A few feet from the door, without opening his eyes, Raymond spoke. “I love you Timothy.” I went back and sat with him. He never woke up or spoke again before dying four days later in 2004.

Raymond used to tell me, “Pastors never retire, they just get put out to pasture.” He had so much yet to give, but he was considered too old to do any good. When I took my first church as pastor, I asked Dr Cox to be my co-pastor. I knew he wanted to minister with me, but told me, “Richard, it’s time for you to move out from my shadow and cast one of your own.

You Timothy, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also  (Second Timothy 2:1-2).

The Lights You Can See – Dr Allan Hamilton

Dr Allan & Joan Hamilton

At a difficult time in my ministry, my pastor met me for lunch and I unburdened my soul to him. He shared a difficult time in his own ministry that nearly broke him, something that only he and his wife knew, and said that they would pray for me. I have no doubt that they did so regularly.

Dr Hamilton began preaching as soon as he graduated from Bible college in 1940. He raised his family on the mission field in The Philippines and then pastored a number of churches in the US before being appointed to a church in Portland, Oregon, near my hometown. There he remained for 21 years, preaching the uncompromising Word of God and equipping young men for ministry. Though he passed into the presence of Jesus in 2016, I’ll always count him as “my” pastor.

I referred to him as the “admiral.” He sported thick white hair and a towering slender frame as straight as a lamppost. All that was missing from his black suit was a series of campaign medals lined up on his chest.

One Sunday evening I asked him how to know the will of God when the Bible didn’t give a specific answer to my situation. He asked me, “You know how when you’re in a plane coming in to land at night, the only thing visible are a few bright lights along the runway?” I nodded my head.

He pressed his right index finger hard into my chest and with each proceeding staccato word poked me with force. “You line up with the lights you can see.”

Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path (Psalm 119:105).

To Those who Eagerly Wait for Him

So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation (Hebrews 9:28).

On the Day of Atonement, when the high priest of Israel entered the Holy of Holies to present the blood of a spotless lamb to God, the people stood outside praying. They eagerly waited to see the high priest exit the temple and know that Israel’s God had accepted the sacrifice on their behalf.

When he finally returned to his waiting people, the high priest would pronounce the blessing of Aaron found in Numbers 6:24-26 and Israel knew for sure their sins were covered. With the return of the high priest, faith became sight.

The writer to the Hebrews uses the word “once” three times in three verses. Jesus died once for many sinners, every sinner must die once, and Christ was offered once (Heb 9:26, 27, 28). “Once” is the Greek word hapax and means something so unique that it never needs to be – nor can it be – repeated again. When Jesus died once for sinners, redemption was finished (Jn 19:30).

Not only is the word “once” given three times, so is the word “appeared.” Jesus appeared in the presence of the Father in Heaven having fully paid the price to redeem many (Heb 9:24). He appeared on earth in His incarnation to put away sin (Heb 9:26). One day He will appear a second time in a way that has nothing to do with sin (Heb 9:28).

The work of salvation completed, Jesus presented Himself to the Father. The Lamb for sinners slain, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb 1:3).

Jesus promised to return to earth one day (Jn 14:1-4). His promise was echoed by angels (Acts 1:10-11) and apostles alike (1 Thess 1:10; 1 Pet 5:4; 1 Jn 3:2). A genuine Christian longingly awaits and loves the anticipated return of the resurrected Christ (2 Tim 4:8).

His first coming dealt with sin once and for all; His second coming will be to prove that sin has been dealt with once and for all. His first coming was as the Lamb, His second coming will be as the Lion. Our great High Priest will return to bring eternal blessing to His eagerly awaiting people.

I can’t wait for this blessed hope!

To Every Unsung Servant

Well done, thou good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:23).

There is a young man who is very dear to me, like a son. He is one of God’s gifts of encouragement to me each Sunday and throughout the week. I pray for him continually and desire only God’s best in his life. I know that he loves me unconditionally. I give him a hard time when he deserves it, and hug him tight when he lays his head on my shoulder as we say goodbye.

A year ago I asked him to take over speaking over and serving the Lord’s Supper in our congregation. He says he has nothing to say, but on the first Sunday of every month God has given him something appropriate and encouraging to share.

He reminds me of a quiet young woman at a church in Kenya who humbly served me breakfast before I preached. To me, she was as wonderful, important, and powerful a servant of God as I was that morning … though no one else in the room may have noticed her or thanked her.

In most Christian circles, certain ones get the attention. These have a charismatic personality, some outstanding ability, or maybe a special connection with someone important. They are the ones heard and seen, and whom I usually try to avoid. We forget that these ones ones are no better than anyone else in the local church. Yes, God has made us each to be different, but every believer is valuable in God’s family because all are set in place by God (1 Cor 12:18). The eyelash and little toe are as important as the tongue and the hand, though the latter two get all the glory.

Ask Matthew and he’ll say, “I’m a nobody. I’m just an ordinary guy.” To most people, including himself, that may be true, but he’s my joy and crown (Phil 4:1).

An evangelist dies and the world stops to mourn; a woman who sat in the back row of her tiny church faithfully each Sunday, her only contribution was the smile she gave to her weary and defeated pastor, dies and few even notice her absence. To every unsung servant of the Lord: thank you.

God has composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it (1 Cor 12:24).

I’m a Pretty Good Boy

My senior year of high school I took a law course. One class period we were visited by two convicted men serving time in an Oregon state prison; one for armed robbery and the other for murder.

The men talked about the conditions they faced growing up, the influences that led them to lives of crime, details of their trials, and pain of being in prison. Both asserted their innocence.

When they finished telling their stories we were allowed to ask questions. I asked: if you were a judge sitting on a trial with your exact circumstances, would you find the person guilty, and what sentence would you give?

The thief said it was an interesting question, but both refused to answer.

It’s easy for us to judge others based upon our own circumstances.

See, I’m a pretty good boy. Sure, I’ve made some mistakes over the past 50 years, but overall … you’re still a far worse a person than I am. I can think of a hundred and one reasons to condemn you and excuse myself.

God, however, doesn’t judge us by how we compare to our neighbor but according to the standard of His Law, the Bible. Where we don’t measure up, where we miss the mark, God calls it sin and sin makes us guilty before God and deserving of punishment.

The punishment for our sins? The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23), physical and spiritual death.

Yet God has done something remarkable. He sent His beloved Son to the earth to stand in your place at the sentencing hearing. Yes, you are guilty, but Jesus took your guilt upon Himself and died for your sins. To be saved you must accept what He gave without claiming innocence, shifting blame, or trying to add any of your own merit to the court case.

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and He was buried, and He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9).

The Parable of the Ant

So much to do and it seemed so little time to do it. He didn’t know where everyone else was going, but everyone was certainly busy. Always going. Always busy. At least that’s how it seemed.

The little black ant scurried his way along the invisible ant highway through the kitchen and up the table leg where he hoped to find a few crumbs of toast left behind. It was his job. He worked all day, every day, and would keep at it until the day he died.

Ant kept himself busy doing what he needed to do to feed his family, never dreaming that there was a world beyond what he knew. Why would he think beyond reality? He was busy in his own world; it was all that mattered.

There were times however, maybe better described as flickering moments, when the ant thought that maybe there were things bigger and greater than himself, his world, and what he knew. “Someday” he kept saying to himself, he’d find the time to ponder these things … but not today. Today would soon end and there was yet more work and even less time.

As Mom cleaned the kitchen and Dad walked out the door for the office, Timmy sat alone, his chin resting on the breakfast table, watching the little ant hurry back and forth searching. Like he did each morning, Timmy dropped a few crumbs from the crust of his toast for the ant to find. “Someday” he kept saying to himself, the ant would stop, look up, and thank him.

What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? (Hebrews 2:6).

The Parable of the New Suit

Monday morning always felt early for Martin. He dragged himself out of bed and into the shower, out of the subway and onto the sidewalk, out of the elevator and through the office door. This morning he already had a new client waiting for him.

He looked over the paperwork on his desk and then made some preliminary observations about the client. Male. Early 20s. Straight teeth. No tattoos. No needle marks. Homeless, but somebody’s son. Martin had grown tired of the same clientele day after day, but something about this young man was different. He would treat this man differently.

Martin took the client into the dressing room and began the search for the perfect new suit. “It really is the suit that makes the man,” Martin said. White shirt with spread collar. Navy suit with a modern skinny cut … Perry Ellis would look great. Most important was the necktie; two-inch, solid black. He worked carefully to ensure that the tie reached down just over the top of the belt buckle. His client looked like a million dollars. Perfectly perfect! As they said in Martin’s business, “Fit for a funeral.”

Hair trimmed and styled with a barely noticeable touch of makeup, his client was ready for the debut. It wasn’t often, but today Martin was proud of himself and his work as he wheeled the young man in the coffin into the Hearse.

A dead man is still a dead man no matter how he’s dressed.

The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord  (Romans 6:23).