Memorial Day Matters

This weekend should be a weekend of reminder. While we sit in front of our grills and enjoy a weekend of fun with friends, we must remember that the freedom to do such things (and so many more important things) has come at a high price to many.

Speaking of those who are chosen by God to enforce justice in this world, Paul tells us in Romans 13:4, “…for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

As much as we wish it weren’t the case, we live in a world that is full of wickedness. As Christians, we know that the only real hope for humanity is Jesus. Only Jesus can transform a heart and bring to life that which sin has destroyed. But peace on this earth will never fully come until the Prince of Peace returns. Until that day, the Bible teaches us that there will always be wickedness in this world because there will always be those who reject Christ.

So what and who does God use in a godless world to protect the righteous and punish those who practice evil? The book of Romans teaches us that God uses those who “Bear the sword.” Every Sunday or Wednesday when I go to church, every prayer meeting I attend, and every outreach I do, reminds me that my God-given freedoms as a human being still exist and that I get to enjoy them. I must also remind myself that in most of the world, others do not enjoy the freedoms that I possess. Why is this? Why have I been so blessed to have these freedoms while others around the world suffer under heavy oppression?

There are many reasons, but one of them is that for almost 243 years in America, there have been people who “bear the sword” with conviction and integrity— they care about freedom, justice, morality, and righteousness. These are men and women who have been guided by the principles that our forefathers founded this nation on; that there are things greater than yourself worth fighting for, and there are evils in this world worth fighting against. It is because of these men and women, who refused complacency and willingly offered their lives, that you and I can wake up in the morning and publicly worship Jesus without fear or retribution or persecution. Yes, I would worship Jesus regardless, but I am grateful that God has blessed me in a country that protects these freedoms, and so many more.

To the memory of those who have sacrificed their lives, and to those who are willingly offering their lives daily for my protection and freedom, I say thank you. Thank you for courageously caring. Though I may not know the letters that make up your names, I do know the principles that have guided your hearts. To every family that has shared in sacrifice through the loss of a son or daughter in our nation’s service, may God comfort your hearts and remind you of this truth, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” And may we all remember the words of Abraham Lincoln who said,

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”

Living in Sad Saturday

Traditionally, the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday has been called Holy Saturday. It is considered by many to be a day of reflection on the completed work of Jesus at the cross.

The gospels tell us that the day after Jesus died was the Sabbath day. This, of course, was the Jewish day of rest. It also explains why Jesus’ body was removed so quickly from the cross. For the Jew, it was a defilement for a dead body to remain exposed for long periods. This is why Joseph of Arimathea rushed so quickly to retrieve and bury the body of Jesus before the Sabbath began at Sundown. Pilate, being obliged to keep the peace with the Jews, granted the request.

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The Reminders of the Cross

This Good Friday, the cross of Jesus reminds us…

That God was not content to leave us dead in our trespasses and sin. (Romans 5:6-8)

That true love goes deeper than mere words. (John 3:16)

That our sin really is much more gruesome and costly than we thought. (Hebrews 9:28)

That sin requires sacrifice and Jesus paid the full price in His own body. (Isaiah 53, 2 Peter 2:24, Hebrews 9:22)

That the devil was humiliated and his power of condemnation forever broken. (Colossians 2:15, Genesis 3:15)

That God’s prophetic plan of salvation has been completed (Psalm 22, Isaiah 53)

That the righteous requirements of the law have been fulfilled on our behalf and no longer condemn us. (Colossians 2:14, Galatians 2:21)

That we have been made innocent before God and freed from the power and penalty of sin. (Romans 5:9, Ephesians 1:7)

That we have been brought near to God. (Ephesians 2:13, 1 Peter 3:18)

That eternal life personally belongs to us. (Hebrews 9:12, John 3:16)

That we now have righteousness on our account that is perfect and not our own. (2 Corinthians 5:21)

That we are delivered from the wickedness of this age. (Galatians 1:4)

That we are forgiven and purified from every lawless deed. (Titus 2:14)

That our guilty consciences have been cleansed. (Hebrews 9:14)

That the sacrifice of Jesus was a willing act of love and obedience. (Philippians 2:8)

That Jesus was not an unwilling victim, but that He was God willingly laying down His life. (John 10:18, 2 Corinthians 5:19)

That God’s salvation is complete and irreversible. (John 19:30)

That we will never have to personally pay the penalty of our own sin. (Romans 6:23)

That we have passed from death to life, darkness to light, and from judgment to forgiveness. (John 5:24, Acts 26:18)

That sin no longer defines our identity. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

That we are no longer considered enemies of God. (Romans 5:10)

That Jesus is only and forever worthy of all authority. (Revelation 5:9)

That sometimes we must embrace suffering to find glory. (1 Peter 2:21, Philippians 3:10)

That Christ was crucified for me so that I might live a selfless life that is crucified with Him. (Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:14)

Can we add or contribute any effort to this great work of salvation? The answer is no. Why? In the words of Jesus, “It is finished!”

As you meditate on the cross and worship the Savior, soak in the words of this incredible song.

The Week from Heaven

There was a time, many eons ago, when I was a young, strapping athlete (exaggeration) in high school. The sport was Water Polo. Beyond getting past the idea of running around outside in a speedo, there was that dreaded week before the season officially started; the week when you would work so hard that you couldn’t tell if you were getting in shape or digging your own grave—they called it “hell week.” Hell week was the week of intense preparation for the season ahead. This week was hard, exhausting, and physically demanding.

I believe in life, we have all encountered weeks like this; weeks that feel as though the enemy is winning on one level or another; weeks we’d rather erase or avoid altogether. Well, Jesus’ final week on earth, by any human standards, would have been considered such. There was probably a moment where it appeared as though Hell won the battle for humanity. In reality, it was one of the most heavenly weeks in human history. There’s never been a week where so much pain and so much glory, so much loss and so much victory coincided together in such divine harmony. This Easter, we remember and celebrate His final week where our victory was won, salvation secured, and condemnation erased!

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Celebrity Pastors and Pastor Celebrities

I was having some difficulty determining where to start, so I’ll just come right out with it. We live in a Christian culture that has largely turned pastors into celebrities and made celebrities their pastors, and it is landing us in cultural hot water. Recent headlines in the news, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram expose this. On one end, it seems that whenever a famous personality, no matter how worldly they may be, says the name “Jesus,” it’s automatically promoted by many Christians as though Jesus Himself was speaking. On the other end, if a pastor can motivate, inspire, and humor an audience all while maintaining relevance and a cutting edge style, he becomes the next big Christian star, often amassing for himself wealth and reputation all in the name of the work of Christ’s kingdom. Celebrities seem to consume us. This isn’t shocking seeing that we are natural followers. We tend to follow the people that appear on the surface to be who we want to become. For the Christian, this makes a strong case that Jesus should be the only one who reaches true celebrity status in our hearts.

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The Stewardship of Influence

We often underestimate the power of influence. As I examine my life, I see it riddled with men and women who took the time to teach me, discipline me, hold me accountable, prophecy over me and pour God’s Word into me. I cringe when I think of the course my life might have taken without those people.

Becoming an influencer is not easy. It requires self-sacrifice, the willingness to love when it hurts, and the faith to take risks on people. It demands times when you get in someone’s face when they don’t appreciate it, and give someone opportunity when they don’t feel ready for it. It’s pouring in truth and drawing out faith. Of this one thing I am sure–if the church loses its influencers, mentors, and disciple-makers, we will damage our future by sending out a generation of believers who are unprepared for life and ministry.

Don’t underestimate your ability, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make a disciple of Jesus. Go forth, find the fragile, open hearts that God has placed under your influence and invest yourself wholly. You may not see the immediate fruit, but take my word for it, some young pastor, evangelist, missionary, father, or mother will think of you later with a grateful heart.

2 Timothy 1:5 – …when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.

O come, O come Emmanuel: One Savior, many titles.

“In Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)

What you observe of something on the surface doesn’t always give the complete picture of its actual substance. To many who look at Jesus, He appears to be nothing more than a good, moral teacher who left humanity with some principles for life that are worth pondering. It’s only when you dig deeper into Christ that you discover Jesus is unimaginably and unfathomably more.

“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is an ancient hymn that masterfully unpacks the hidden treasures of Christ by unveiling its own hidden treasures. Originally written by 8th-century monks, the hymn was used during Advent to set the expectation of Christ’s coming leading up to Christmas. It’s a beautiful song, but the true hidden gem lies within the structure of the poem. Seven days before Christmas Eve monasteries would sing the “O Antiphons” in anticipation of Christmas Eve. These were songs declaring different attributes of Jesus. In “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” these antiphons are gathered into one song and speak of the various titles of Jesus. Each verse of the hymn calls for Jesus to “come” and addresses a unique part of His identity and mission.

  • Jesus is Emmanuel (Isaiah 8:8) – Being “God with us,” Christ reveals to us the heart of God the Father.
  • Jesus is the Rod of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1) – Springing from a dead stump, He will free His people from Satan’s tyranny by death and resurrection, making them free forever.
  • Jesus is the Dayspring (Luke 1:78) – As the Light of the World, Jesus will shine God’s righteousness and banish darkness forever.
  • Jesus is the Key of David (Isaiah 22:22) – He alone holds the keys to life and death. He opens doors no man can shut and has unlocked the gate for us into heaven.
  • Jesus is the Desire of Nations (Haggai 2:7) – One day He will rule and reign over every nation, tribe, and tongue with His benevolent and mighty hand.

The song becomes an even more intriguing treasure when you discover that the antiphons create an acrostic, and when you reverse the acrostic, it becomes that Latin phrase “Ero Cras,” meaning “I will be present tomorrow.” It appears that even the early monks were hoping and praying for the quick return of Jesus! They also recognized that Jesus was ever present for every need. May this also be true of us in every area of life. For every longing and need we have, we must begin with the simple prayer, “O come, O come,  Jesus!” We will discover that Jesus isn’t merely the answer to our salvation; He is the answer to everything else as well.