Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Specializing in Redemption

Redeem \ri-ˈdēm\ v. To recover ownership of by paying a specified sum…to set free; rescue. To save from sin. To make up for. (American Heritage Dictionary, 1983)

It’s one of the sweetest words in the English language. A third baseman can make a throwing error in the top of the ninth allowing the go-ahead run to score. But when he comes to bat in the bottom of the inning he has the opportunity to redeem his mistake.

A student may score poorly on a math quiz, but a good grade on the final exam can redeem his work.

I recently messed up on my wife’s birthday present (or lack thereof), but was able to redeem my folly by coming through with a gift she truly enjoyed later. Not that I advocate ever messing up on your wife’s birthday, men.

These examples, however, pale in comparison to the way God has redeemed His people in Christ Jesus.

The apostle Paul stands as one of the greatest example of redemption this world has ever known. Before he was redeemed, Saul, as he was called then, was a very zealous man, rising high in the ranks of the religious elite. He had earned all of the accolades from the religious establishment and took home all of the trophies one could carry.

He thought he had it all together. And from all outward appearances from the world’s viewpoint, he did.

It wasn’t until he had a personal encounter with the risen and living Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus that he truly understood his sin and his need for a Savior. Paul’s own testimony shows what redemption in Christ is all about.

“I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, appointing me to the ministry – one who was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. Since it was out of ignorance that I had acted in unbelief, I received mercy, and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ – and I am the worst of them” (1 Timothy 1:12-15).

Though Paul’s former way of life seemed to be on track, when Jesus met him that day he began to see how sinful he really was. God redeemed him, recovered him, bought him back with the blood of Christ, rescued him and released him from the grip of sin’s enslavement and set him free to live in righteousness. That’s what the mercy and grace of God does in those who acknowledge and confess their sin, repent from it and turn in wholehearted faith and devotion to Jesus as Savior and Lord of their lives.

Maybe you’ve read of the death of Chuck Colson this past week. He serves as another great example of God’s ability to redeem. You probably know of Colson’s role in the Watergate scandal and of his reputation as Pres. Nixon’s “hatchet man” in the White House. But following his arrest, God got Colson’s attention. He repented of his sin and received the riches of God’s mercy and overflowing grace by trusting in Jesus.

God redeemed Colson’s life. He spent the next 40 years ministering to prisoners and their families through Prison Fellowship Ministries. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Colson “lives on as a modern model of redemption and a permanent rebuttal to the cynical claim that there are no second chances in life.”

In 1973 the Boston Globe wrote: “If Mr. Colson can repent of his sins, there just has to be hope for everyone.” How true.

Friend, there is hope for you. God’s willing to give you another chance. Repent and turn to Jesus. He specializes in redemption.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

When I Grow Up

I always wanted to be a rock star. Right after being a professional football player, that is. Growing up I dreamed of becoming the next Roger Staubach, quarterbacking the Dallas Cowboys to the Super Bowl. Turns out there’s not much interest from the scouts in balding 40 year olds who stand in at 5’10” with my shoes on, weigh 150 pounds, and can’t throw the ball more than 30 yards down the field. 

Oh well. But I could still be a rock star. In fact some of the bands I listened to 30 years ago are still touring. There is hope yet! All I’d have to do is choose an instrument, start practicing, get really good, find some other guys who are really good, land a few gigs, come up with a hit song, sign a deal with a record label, buy a bus and we’d be ready to roll. And, of course, convince my wife that this is God’s will for my life. 

How hard could that be? 

So maybe not. Who knew that God had a much greater plan in store? Being a pastor of a local church never showed up on my radar screen. But God knew it all along. And it’s a higher calling than anything I’d ever dreamed of. 

What’s fascinating is looking back at how the Lord had been preparing me for this all along, even though I never had a clue. Space prevents me from elaborating in detail, but I can tell you that God has put certain people in my life at particular times who have pointed me in the right direction. He has given me experiences and opportunities that have become useful in ministry. He has shaped my heart, transformed my will and renewed my mind to follow His lead. 

Not that I’ve responded perfectly along the way, believe me. But thankfully the Lord has never given up on me. He has always been faithful. And He has blessed richly in spite of myself. 

I love being a pastor of a local church. I love being in the place where the Lord has brought me. I love studying His Word and leading others to do so. I love preaching the gospel of Jesus and leading people to Him. I love serving the Lord and shepherding His body of believers. I love the church despite our weaknesses and imperfections. 

There are times when I realize I’m totally unqualified to do this. Often I face situations where I’m in over my head and I don’t know what to do. I feel a lot like Jehoshaphat the king of Judah. In 2 Chronicles 20 we read that some men came and reported that a great multitude was coming up against him for battle. It was an overwhelming army, and Jehoshaphat knew he was in deep trouble. 

So what did he do when he didn’t know what to do? He “set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord…” (2 Chron. 20:3-4). 

Get your Bible out and read the prayer that follows in 2 Chronicles 20:5-12. Jehoshaphat acknowledges the sovereign power and rule of Almighty God. He recalls the Lord’s faithfulness to His covenant and His promise to help in times of trouble. He presents the current situation and appeals to God’s justice for the sake of His own name. He concludes by praying, “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 

That’s the heart of a man who knows his own inability, but is confidently looking to the Lord’s supernatural ability. That’s a man who recognizes that apart from Christ he can do nothing, but that in Christ nothing is impossible. That’s a man who trusts not in himself, in his own wisdom or resources, but trusts fully in the name of the Lord his God. 

That’s who I want to be when I grow up, even if I never throw a single NFL pass.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Daily Miracle

In my previous life I spent eight years working for the Rockford Register Star, the daily newspaper in Illinois’ second largest city, at least at that time. If you’ve never been around a newspaper operation, you need to take a tour sometime. And you’d better do it soon before newspapers go the way of the dinosaur. 

I worked in classified advertising as a mild-mannered sales rep. If you wanted to hawk your collection of Beanie Babies, host a neighborhood garage sale, hire an Industrial Engineer, haul trash or hold an auction, I was your guy to call. All it took was entering your information into the system, setting up the publish dates and charging you an arm and a leg for it. 

But it took someone else to “dump” the ads. I didn’t coin that term, that’s just what they called it. Every night someone had to make sure that everything entered into the system actually came out ready to print. Kind of like eating a burrito. 

Then that person hands off the ads to someone else who begins to lay out the pages together with ads, news, obituaries, stocks, weather maps, comics, crosswords and box scores. It goes from there eventually to the press room, where the press operators set everything in motion and the magic happens.

In the meantime, there’s a whole graphic design department creating retail, real estate, automotive advertisements and more. There’s a whole team of sales professionals out showing specs and making deals. There are journalists frantically gathering and writing stories, researchers digging for information, editors proofing and creating headlines, photographers capturing newsworthy moments and editorial cartoonists humoring readers with their latest satires.

And that’s not even getting the paper out of the building. It takes an array of people to truck the papers out to the carriers, who in turn throw yours into the bushes rather than on your doorstep. Then it takes a whole army of employees in the circulation department to field your calls complaining about why your paper ended up in the bushes.

Then there’s marketing, human resources, finance and billing, administrative assistants, information tech geeks – I mean, gurus, building maintenance and cleaning people, somebody to keep the coffee fresh, and so on.  

No wonder they call it the daily miracle. Every department is dependent upon every other department. Everybody realizes this. Without working together well, that newspaper would never end up in your bushes an hour late every morning. 

Unity is essential not only in the newspaper business, but in the church as well. What do you see happen in the Bible after Jesus rises from the dead? You see the church working together. They’re dependent on each other and they know it. Reading in the book of Acts you see the church united in Christ and united with one another. 

“All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer…And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship…Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul…” (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 4:32).

This is God’s design for His body, the church. This is Jesus’ plea for His followers. This is the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of believers. Unity. Devotion. Togetherness. Teamwork. Fellowship. Being one in spirit and purpose.

“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). 

Why not come and be part of the daily miracle that is called the church?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Blessing of Believing

One of the stories around Easter that almost everyone can relate to involves a young man named Thomas. Thomas is just like you and me. Not content to just believe the reports of the witnesses, Thomas had to see for himself. He wanted to examine the evidence. He would have made a good CSI detective.

You can’t blame him. He saw how it all went down. He saw the guards come into the Garden of Gethsemane with their torches and weapons. He saw them arrest and bind Jesus and lead Him away.

He was aware of the “trial” they put Jesus through. He knew how brutal a “scourging” at the hands of Roman soldiers was. He heard about the crown of thorns they twisted together and pressed upon His head.

Thomas was no dummy. When a man gets a Roman death sentence there’s no endless string of appeals and retrials. There’s no Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton stirring up the masses to protest this great injustice.

When a man gets handed over to be crucified, that’s it. It’s all over. Death by crucifixion was the most horrible way a man could die, and the ruthless Roman soldiers were experts at putting people to death in the most horrific ways possible.

When a dead body is laid to rest in a tomb, that’s the end of story. When the stone is entrenched in place, secured, sealed and guarded by a squadron of Roman soldiers, there’s no way out. No hope for another miracle. He saved others, but now He’s gone.

So when his friends told Thomas that they had seen the Lord Jesus alive, you can understand his hesitancy to accept their report. I would have been skeptical, too.

“Alive? No way! Not after being crucified. Not with that tomb locked down. I say no way. Not unless I see for myself those nail marks in His hands. Not unless I place my finger into those marks and into His side. There’s no way I’m believing it.”

Isn’t that the doubting mind of faithless men ever since? We cry out, “Show me the money!” And refusing to believe, we condemn ourselves to a futile lifelong pursuit of something more, something real, something eternal. We search in vain for something that will satisfy the deepest longings of our heart. We seek for happiness, peace, hope, truth and meaning in life, but come up empty. We’re looking for love in all the wrong places.

Friend, may I say to you that everything your soul longs for is found in Jesus? He is the Door through which we are saved and find pasture. The devil is the thief who comes only to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus is the One who has come to give life, and give it to the full. He’s the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.

And He not only laid down His life for us, but He also had the power and authority to take it up again. Satan has no ability to destroy Christ in death. The burly Roman soldiers had no chance to keep Him down. The stone was rolled away – not so Jesus could get out, but so we could see He’s no longer there.

When Jesus appeared eight days later to Thomas, all doubt disappeared. Thomas didn’t even need to study the case, for the very real and living presence of the King of kings and Lord of lords convinced him beyond a shadow of a doubt. All he could do was fall at Jesus’ feet and cry out, “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus responded, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). That’s faith. That’s why we rejoice eternally in Christ. And that’s why we’re blessed.

Maybe you can relate to Thomas’ initial doubts. But please don’t stay there! See for yourself that Jesus is alive. Need a personal revelation? Then come join us Easter Sunday morning at 10:45. Come and see, believe and be blessed!