Wednesday, October 16, 2019

I Want Justice


I still remember years ago, when I was a student at Harding University, someone submitted a prayer request for our preaching student chapel.  I don’t remember the details, but I do remember that they were praying for justice to be done.  Carl Mitchell, who was the Dean of the College of Bible and Religion added, "I let's also remember to pray for the perpetrator, that he can find redemption as well."  That really struck a nerve.  Everyone wanted justice, which may have bordered on a desire for revenge.  Dr. Mitchell's addition to the prayer request brought us back to the sobering reality of the cross.  The cross is a place of grace, redemption, and forgiveness. 

I was reminded of that once again when I listened to the victim impact statement of Brandt Jean yesterday.  His older brother, Botham Jean, was shot by Amber Guyger, an off duty police officer who mistakenly entered his apartment, thinking it was hers.  Thinking Botham to be an intruder, she shot him dead.  This case became a lightning rod for the racial tensions in this country since the officer is white and the victim is black.  People across the country were crying out for justice for Jean.  Guyger was convicted of murder and sentenced to ten years in prison.  News crews had their cameras on emotional crowds in the hall who were yelling that ten years was not justice at all.

Brandt Jean, Botham's younger brother, gave a surprising victim's impact statement at the end of the trial.  Instead of focusing on the crime or on his now deceased brother, he focused on forgiveness.  He told Guyger things like, "I love you as a person," "I don't wish anything bad on you," and "I forgive you."  He also stated that "I want the best for you, because I know that's exactly what Botham would want you to do, and the best would be give your life to Christ."  After he was finished, he requested permission to hug her. 

According to the Christian Chronicle, the mood in the building was transformed after this.  The commotion and the yelling stopped.  A lot of the media stories focused on the hug, and even on the offer of forgiveness, but either downplayed or omitted the talk of God and accepting Christ.  Instead of crying out for justice or even vengeance, Brandt, who is a Christ follower like his older brother Botham was, offered forgiveness and reconciliation.  Allison Jean, their mother, later said in an interview, "Botham loved humanity.  He was a forgiving person. And What Brandt demonstrated yesterday is what I believe Botham would have done.  To be honest, when I saw Brandt up there and what he was saying, I really felt Botham's presence in the room.  I really think Brandt was heavily influenced by his older brother and did just what he felt Botham would have done."

It occurs to me that his is part of what it means to be the salt of the earth.  What an effect he had on that room!  Our prayer should be that God continue to use us as the salt of the earth in this way.

This is also demonstrating the ministry of reconciliation, which has the message, "Be reconciled to God."  I have been reading this passage again and reflecting on how I saw this in action:

"So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:16-21).

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Trapped


I recently read a news story about a stuck Raccoon inside a snack vending machine at a Florida High School.  Authorities believe that he entered the machine through the bottom door of the vending machine.  Since the only way to open it is to push at the door from the outside, the Raccoon was stuck once he entered the machine.  School officials called animal control to come and deal with the trapped creature.  They unplugged the machine, wheeled the vending machine outside, then opened so the Raccoon could make his mad dash to freedom.

This illustrates the nature of temptation and sin.  In John 8:34, Jesus said that anyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin.  Temptation lures you closer and closer until you enter into sin and are trapped.  No matter how hard you try, you cannot break free.  You cannot go back and "un-sin."  You cannot turn back the clock and undo what you have done.  The only hope is for someone who is not also trapped to come along and rescue you.  The only one that can do this is Jesus.  After pointing out that anyone who sins becomes a slave to sin, he points out, "But if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed."

The sad thing is that many do not realize they are trapped.  They are surrounded by goodies that make it seem as though they have hit the jackpot.  For a season, life is a party.  However, this does not last forever.  At some point, the goodies spoil and perish.  The ultimate result of sin is eternal death.

How to Be Rescued

How fortunate that Jesus came to rescue us from sin!  Jesus is the one who provided a way to break the chains of bondage to sin.

1) Jesus Provides the Way.  1 Corinthians 15:3-4 says, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."

He died for our sins, and therefore enables us to be freed from sin.  He is the only one that could die for our sins and free us from sin for two reasons:  a) He himself did not sin, and therefore is without sin.  Hebrews 4:15 says he was tempted as we are tempted, but without sin.  Since he is not trapped in sin, he can free us.  b) He is our Creator and Lord, and only he can forgive sins.  In Mark 2:7, we are reminded that God is the one who can forgive sins.  Jesus demonstrated in Mark 2:1-12, that he has the authority to forgive sins.  The reason he has that authority, is because he is God.  This is why scriptures such as John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-6; Colossians 2:9-10; and 1 John 5:20 make clear that Jesus is God.

2) When We Become Freed.  Romans 6:3-7 says, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin."

When we are baptized, we are buried with Christ and sin is done away with.  Jesus frees us from our sins.  We are no longer enslaved to sin!

Staying Free

Never again do I need to be entrapped in sin.  As one who walks with Christ, there are three biblical instructions to keep in mind concerning sin

1) Flee from Sin. 
Passages such as 2 Tim 2:22; 1 Tim 6:11; and 1 Cor 6:18; say to "flee" from sin.  Do no flirt with what tempts you.  Do not try to get as close to the edge as possible without stepping over the line.  The only way to be sure that you do not become trapped again is to flee from temptation and sin.  There are warnings in the Bible that point out that it is worse to have been freed from sin and then to be trapped again.  Hebrews 6:4-6 says, "For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance."  2 Peter 2:20-22 says, "For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A dog returns to its own vomit,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” "  The warnings are clear, stay far away from the path to sin.

2) Time in the Word. 
In Matthew 4, Jesus was tempted by the Devil in the wilderness when he was physically vulnerable.  However, even in the weakness of his flesh, his mind, will, and spirit was strong because he already had a habit of spending time in the word.  Each temptation Satan threw at him was instinctively met with God's word to ward it off.  In our struggle against sin, the Bible tell us to put on the fall armor of God.  Ephesians 6:17 says that part of that equipment is the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God."  Satan was successful at fending of the Devil's temptation because he had mastered the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  It is important for us to do so as well.

3) Be with the Brethren. 
The primary reason for the church to assemble together is to encourage and build each other up.  1 Corinthians 14:26 says that "When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification."  This means that we build each other up.  We cannot do this if we do not assemble.  Hebrews 10:24-25 says, "…let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another…"  We need to get together to encourage each other.  It is very difficult to successfully stand up to temptation alone.  Therefore, we need to assemble together regularly so that we can encourage the brethren, and they can encourage us.

What Now?

If I am not a Christian, I need to ask myself if I have allowed Christ to free me from my sin.  Have I accepted him as my crucified and risen savior and Lord?  Have I been buried with him so that he will free me from bondage to my sin.

If I am a Christian, I need to ask myself if I flee from anything that tempts me to be unfaithful to God?  Do I spend prayerful time in the word?  Do I make a habit of forsaking assembling together?  Do I encourage my brethren to faithfulness?

Thank you Lord, for providing a way for freedom!

Friday, March 08, 2019

Whose Time Is It?


I can hear the clock on the wall ticking away, marking the passing of time.  I look down on my desk, and I can see the calendar, which is also marking the passing of time.  The calendar has several labels, including Valentines Day, President's Day, and Saint Patrick's Day, among others.  I am reminded of this reflection on time in Ecclesiastes 3:

1 There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

This reflection reminds me of the various ways we use time.  But what is the significance of it all?  I understandably am sometimes demoralized when something happens to undo what I have done with my time.  I, like so many others, wonder what I do matters. 

The text goes on to declare in verse 11:

"He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." 

We have eternity in our heart.  We have the ages in our heart.  We want to see the big picture and know how everything fits together.  How does what we do matter?  Will something render our time in this life as insignificant?

I remember how my grandmother, in her later years, used to declare when we were worked up over something, "Oh well.  Who is going to care 100 years from now?"  She understood something about not seeing past the horizon even though we have eternity in our hearts.  For much of my early life, I did not know who my great-great grandfather was, much less my great grandfather.  I will probably not know who my great-great grandchildren are, and perhaps not know my great grandchildren.  My perspective is very, very limited in the overall scheme of things. 

However, I am reminded that I do not see the time line the way God does.  God also has eternity in his heart, but unlike myself, he can see from beginning to end.  He saw the cross while man was still in the garden.  He could see even further, past the cross, to the end of Satan, sin, and death in the lake of fire.  He even saw me long before I was born and how I fit into his overall plan.

Even though I cannot see time the way God does, I accept by faith that somehow what is beyond the horizon in front and behind me somehow all fits together in some grand scheme that is moving toward a consummation that will magnificently be worth it all. 

There is truly a time for everything.  I am reminded of this when Jesus, several times during his earthly ministry said, "My time has not yet come."  But as his time drew near, Jesus began to prepare his disciples for what was to come.  Here is what he said about those who will persecute his followers: "I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them" (Jn 16:4).  Yes, they will have their time.  However, when their time came, he also said, "The hour has come for the Son of man to be glorified."  The enemy's is brief and temporary because it was also the time for the Son of God to be glorified by defeating the enemy on the cross.  Unlike the enemy's time, Christ's time is permanent!  Jesus said, "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (Jn 16:33). 

All time is ultimately God's time.  It fits together as part of God's plan.  I need to keep this in mind when facing hardships.  I may not be able to see what is beyond the seasonal horizon, so I remember that God uses his time to bring about his plan from beginning to end.  Inserted into the middle of his timeline is myself, who works within the times and seasons to bring about the goal of God's time.  Thank you Lord for this perspective.