Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Difference Easter Makes

What difference does Easter make? Only all the difference in the world.

Without the resurrection of Jesus, the so-called Christian faith would be the greatest sham in history. If Jesus were not alive and well today, Christians would be the sorriest bunch of people this world has ever seen. We would be losing-est, most delusional, deceived and duped group of religionists to have walked upon this planet.

But the truth tells a different story. The truth is that Jesus did, in fact, rise from the grave on the third day. Death could not keep Him bound. He rose from the dead – from a violent and horrific death on a cross – and now lives still, no longer to die again. This makes all the difference in the world.

The Christian faith is the greatest truth in history. Jesus is alive and well, and Christians are the most blessed bunch of people this world has ever seen. We are the victorious ones, the most satisfied and joyful and confident community to have walked upon this planet, and who will one day walk upon the streets of gold in heaven.

The truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then, makes those who reject Him the foolish and ignorant ones. Here’s the deal: We’re all sinners and deserve to die and go to hell. And there’s not a thing (or a million things) we can do to earn or buy a ticket to heaven. Let’s face it – if heaven’s a perfect and pure place, then we don’t belong because we’re imperfect and impure.

But because of God’s incomparable love for mankind, He has made it possible that we don’t have to face the penalty for our sins. Instead, He gives us the perfection and purity of Jesus. He dealt with our sins when He sent His Son, Jesus, to take our punishment on the cross, and makes us righteous through Him. The Bible says that “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). The One who lived the perfect and pure life that we never could offered Himself as the only acceptable sacrifice to God for sins, and through faith we are saved on His ticket.

And though Jesus was crucified at the hands of godless men, neither the Roman rulers nor Jewish religious authorities nor even death had the final say. God raised Him up on the third day in a glorious display of His power and in a triumphant confirmation of His purposes to eternally save those whom come to Him through Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus makes all the difference in the world!

Romans 6:23 makes this clear: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Friend, you can’t ignore the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. You can either embrace it or reject it. You can either live your life by faith in Jesus in view of heaven, or you can live life on your own terms in view of death and hell. There is no middle ground. Jesus said: “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). There is no other way!

And the apostle Peter in Acts 4:12 spells out God’s gracious offer of life in Christ in no uncertain terms: “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.” Let me say it again: There is no other way!

Will you turn from your sins today, receiving complete forgiveness of all your sins through the blood of Jesus Christ? Will you gladly give your heart and life to Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Almighty God lovingly waits with arms wide open to pour out His mercy and grace upon you, but you must come through His Son. Come to Him now and be saved from death to eternal life! Only a fool would reject such an offer!

Then let me invite you to come and be a part of God’s family at Ridgway First Baptist Church this Sunday. We’ll be welcoming special musical guests “Sons of the Father” during our 10:40 morning worship service this week (May 1). We’d love to see you there as we worship together! Jesus’ resurrection makes all the difference in the world!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What More?

So what more could Jesus do for you to show you how much He loves you? Isn’t it enough that He took your place on the cross? All you have to do is look at the nail scars in His hands and feet. Look at the wound in His side. Look at the stripes upon His back. Look into His eyes and feel the compassion of His heart pouring out for you.

The cross is the ultimate expression of God’s love. He didn’t have to do it. But He did because He loves you. He didn’t have to endure the beatings. He didn’t have to wear the crown of thorns. He didn’t have to take the mocking or the shame. But He did it in love for you.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Judas came betraying Jesus. One of the Twelve, one of His followers, His friend, handed Him over to those bearing clubs and swords. One of His own turned Him in, betraying the Son of Man with a kiss. It didn’t have to be this way, but Jesus suffered it all out of the depth of His love for you.

His faithful disciple, Peter, was ready for war. When they seized Jesus to arrest Him, Peter drew his sword and started swinging. He sure wasn’t going to let things go down this way. This was the time to fight! This was the time for Jesus to establish Himself as the rightful King of Israel and take His place as Ruler and Messiah.

Yet Jesus did nothing of the sort. In fact, He rebuked Peter. Then He posed a question that drives me to my knees in wonder and amazement at His love. He asked, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once send Me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53). No, He didn’t have to do it. He didn’t have to suffer the excruciating pain and unthinkable humiliating of the cross. He didn’t have to die. But He chose to!

That’s love! His love is deep! His love is wide! His love is high! His love is long! That’s a love that goes beyond measure. It’s a love that surpasses knowledge.

So, what more could He do to show you His love? How about rising from the grave?!

When Jesus died on the cross, that was it for the disciples. It was over. Their hopes were crushed. Their dreams defeated. Their souls empty and broken. Jesus was the One who was supposed to redeem Israel. And now – it was over. Had all the events of the past three years as they followed Him been in vain? All the miracles and signs? All the healing of the sick? All the authoritative teaching? All the prophetic words? Was it all just for nothing?

But in the midnight of their sadness, confusion, disappointment and fear, Jesus came to them as the Living One, risen from the dead, and declared: “Peace to you!” He didn’t leave them hanging. He didn’t leave them hopeless. He didn’t leave them to waste away in worry, doubt or despair.

He proved that His love was stronger than death! The cords of death had Him bound, but His love broke through! The sting of death inflicted its fury, but His resurrection victory rendered it powerless! “God raised Him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it” (Acts 2:24).

Friend, maybe you’re in a place of spiritual darkness today. Perhaps sadness, confusion, disappointment and fear are the norm for you. Let the love of Christ Jesus assure you that it doesn’t have to be that way. When you put your faith in Him, He gives you His joy. He gives you His peace. He gives you His power. And He gives you His life.

Will you receive the offer of salvation through Jesus Christ today? Turn from sin and come to Jesus, the One who forgives your sins by His blood and gives you a living hope through His resurrection victory. Oh, how He loves you!

And join us this Sunday at Ridgway First Baptist Church as we celebrate Jesus. We’ll have a Sunrise Service at 7:00 a.m., followed by a light breakfast fellowship. Sunday School for all ages begins at 9:30, and our worship celebration featuring a choir special entitled, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lamb” will be at 10:40 a.m. After the service we’ll have an Easter egg hunt for the children. Everyone is welcome and invited to attend!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

God of the Impossible

Is anything impossible for God? How could it be?

He is the sovereign ruler of all things. He is the maker of heaven and earth, the seas and all that is in them. He is the giver of life and breath. He is head of all things, and He is the One who holds all things together by the word of His power.

He is enthroned in heaven and His kingdom cannot be shaken. He is all-powerful, all-knowing and all-present. He is eternal, immortal and incomparable. He is glorious, majestic, wonderful and amazing.

He plants nations, and He uproots nations. He laughs at the schemes of the greatest rulers on earth. He directs the hearts of kings like a stream of water, turning it wherever He will. He establishes righteousness and justice, and His rule will never be overturned.

He is righteous and just, compassionate and gracious. He is faithful and true. He is forgiving and good. He is merciful and mighty.

He is holy, holy, holy. The whole earth is full of His glory. He is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come. He is worthy to receive glory and honor and power, for He created all things, and by His will they existed and were created.

He is the conquering Lion of Judah, the Lamb who was slain yet is risen from the grave. He is worthy of the songs of the redeemed. He is worthy to pronounce judgment and wrath, and He is worthy to bestow blessings and honor. He is worthy of all praise.

“Great and marvelous are Your works, O Lord God, the Almighty; Righteous and True are Your ways, King of the nations! Who will not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy; For all the nations will come and worship before You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:3-4).

Is anything impossible for God? Sarah was way beyond child-bearing years when the Lord told her she would have a son. Yet within a year Isaac was born to Sarah and Abraham, who became a father of many nations. A barren womb was no impossibility to God.

The Israelites were trapped between the sea and the approaching Egyptian army. There was no way out but God made a way. The Lord built a wall of water on the right and on the left, drying up the sea as a pathway through which His people would cross. The Red Sea was no impossibility to the Lord.

Jesus was cruelly hung upon a Roman cross where He suffered and died. His body was buried in a tomb. Hearts sank and hope faded. But on the third day God displayed His power and raised His Son to life, conquering sin and triumphing over death forever. Not even as fierce an enemy as the grave stands a chance against the power of the Lord Almighty.

And so I ask: Is anything impossible for God? Is there any foe who can defeat Him? Is there any obstacle too overwhelming for Him to overcome? Is there any problem too difficult for Him to solve? Is there any burden you’re bearing too heavy for Him to carry? Is there any pit too deep from which He is unable to lift you out? Is there any need too great for Him to meet?

Friend, our God is able! Perhaps today you’re facing a situation that seems impossible to you. And from a human perspective, no doubt it is. But from God’s view nothing is impossible.

I remember a song with these lines: “God will make a way / Where there seems to be no way / He works in ways / We cannot see / He will make a way for me / He will be my guide / Hold me closely to His side / With love and strength / For each new day / He will make a way/ God will make a way.”

When you come to Him through faith in Jesus, you will find that He will make a way out of what seems to be an impossibility. Why not come to church this Sunday morning and join us in worshipping this God of the impossible? And on Easter Sunday morning, April 24, you’re invited to come for our 7:00 Sunrise Service followed by a light breakfast fellowship, then Sunday School at 9:30 and our Easter choir cantata at 10:40. Jesus is risen and lives forevermore! Hallelujah! Praise the Lamb!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Tragedy and Joy of Being "Used"

Nobody wants to be “used.” That word has such a bad connotation. Normally we think of it in terms of being exploited, taken advantage of, or trampled upon for the wicked pleasure of another.

The idea of slavery comes to mind. How inhumane can one be to buy another human being off the auction block, as if purchasing a piece of property?! And of course one of the darkest stains on this nation’s own history is our treatment of African Americans. Read some of the accounts of the slavery days and you’ll see that many of them were treated by their owners with less respect than their cattle and fields. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve really made any progress at all in our race relations.

Another practice that exemplifies the word “used” has to be the modern day practice of human trafficking. I’m not sure why they don’t call it slavery. Does saying “human trafficking” soften the public perception of this vile deed? Why is there no international outcry on behalf of those being forced into servitude and prostitution?

From teenage soldier-slaves in Uganda to entire families forced to work in South Asian factories without pay to child prostitution in Thailand, reports indicate that 27 million people around the world are enslaved today. By the way, the United States of America was included in the June 2010 U.S. Department of State report as being a nation who is not only a destination but also a source country for this evil practice.

And you can hardly watch the evening news these days without seeing the way some cruel dictator in the Middle East oppresses his people for the sake of his own gain. Through excessive use of violence and control, countless millions of people are suffering unimaginable hunger, pain and shame while being “used” to build another palace for their ruler.

Is it any wonder then that in the Bible God speaks out so emphatically against those who pervert justice and oppress the weak? The Holy God, whose very throne is founded on righteousness and justice, lovingkindness and truth (see Psalm 89:14), must absolutely agonize in grief and anger over the way we so selfishly “use” other people for our own purposes.

Isaiah records the word of the Lord: “Woe to those who enact evil statutes and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice and rob the poor of My people of their rights, so that widows may be their spoil and that they may plunder the orphans” (Isaiah 10:1-2).

God also declares through the prophet Malachi: “So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me, says the Lord Almighty” (Malachi 3:5).

Make no mistake: there will be a day when ultimate justice will prevail. Isaiah prophesies concerning the time when Jesus Christ will rule victoriously over all things as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. “He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever” (Isaiah 9:7).

The Holy Spirit spoke through Paul saying, “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man [Jesus] whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).

That said, there's another thought about being used that brings joy instead of tragedy. My desire and my delight is to be so “used” by God for His good pleasure that I count my own life as nothing to me. For anyone who wishes to follow Christ, that must be our desire. To give our lives away for the sake of the One who gave His life for ours on the cross. To “do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). The King of kings beckons you with His loving-kindness. Do you want to be “used” in His glorious service?