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Archive for March, 2015

You must open the door!

Passover season two thousand years ago was the delight of the Jews and the despair of the Romans. Thousands of devout Jews had arrived in the Holy City from all over the world. The population of Jerusalem more than tripled during the feast, making it necessary for the Roman military units to be on special alert. They lived with the possibility that some enthusiastic Jewish zealot might try to kill a Roman official and incite a riot.

Into this dramatic situation Jesus came riding on a donkey. Less than a week remained before He would be crucified outside the city walls. On what was to become history’s first Palm Sunday the friends of Jesus scattered branches before Him which they had torn from trees along the way. They also took off their outer garments and cast them in the street as a symbol of their allegiance and devotion. They wanted the Messiah to know how loyal they were to Him personally, and how excited they were about the coming kingdom He would establish.

Had you been riding on the donkey that day you probably would have been flattered by the acclaim. You might have smiled and waved to those who were along the side of the street. But someone in the crowd would doubtless have said about you what an aged African American woman said about President Franklin Roosevelt when he visited Ashville, North Carolina more than seventy years ago. She had stood for hours to see for the first time in her life the President of the United States, and when she saw him, she shook her head and said, “Pshaw, he is only a man.”

He who rode the donkey on that day was much more than a man. He had given up His place in heaven to enter the arena where you and I live in order to save mankind. He was born in Bethlehem, grew up in Nazareth, and from day one was destined to be present at this particular Passover feast. Friday’s cross was already casting its shadow across His path as He rode into Jerusalem. He was riding to His death. In return for His sacrifice and loyalty to those who were with Him that day He got branches torn from someone else’s trees, and garments cast in the dust of the street. He was giving everything He had; they were giving much less.

I do not know the thoughts of the Son of God as He rode into the Holy City, but He did not turn back. What astounds me is that He saw their shallowness, their superficiality, their cheap show of loyalty, and still He rode on to die for them. He knew that the loyalty of those who cried, “Hosanna!” on Sunday would not last for even one week. How easy it is to pledge our loyalty to Christ and later let it drop by the wayside.

Christians refer to the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem as the “Triumphal Entry,” but no Roman would have used that term. An official “Roman Triumph” was something to behold! When a Roman general came back to Rome after a complete conquest of an enemy, he was welcomed with an elaborate official parade. In the parade he would exhibit his trophies of war and the prisoners he had captured. The victorious general rode in a golden chariot, priests burned incense in his honor, and the people shouted his name and praised him. The procession always ended at the arena where the people were entertained by watching the captives fight with the wild beasts. That was a “Roman Triumph.”

The triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem was nothing like that, but it was a triumph just the same. He was God’s anointed King and Savior, but His conquest would be spiritual and not military. The important question for each person who reads these words is this: “Has Jesus Christ made a triumphal entry into my heart?” If not, if you will shut out the other noises that seek to gain your attention, you will be able to hear Him knocking at the door of your heart. He will not force Himself in. You must choose to open the door!

 

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Easter is coming!

During the days of Lent Christians around the world begin to focus on the crucifixion of Jesus. It was on a Roman cross in behalf of all who would believe in Him that Jesus took our penalty for sin, which is death, upon Himself. There is no way to make any instrument of death appealing – especially crucifixion! It has to rank right up there on a very short list of tortuous ways to die.

Executions today are, for the most part, private events. They are private in the sense that, though they may be viewed by a few people, they are not viewed by the general public. The Romans wanted the people they ruled to know that the penalty for breaking their laws would be brutal, and extreme. They had already tried death by boiling in oil, impalement by spear, stoning, strangulation, drowning, and burning. They stopped using these methods because the person or persons being executed died too quickly.

The Romans discovered that nailing someone to a cross was ideal because it.was both slow and painful. Those who were tried and adjudged guilty were placed in highly visible places where citizens could be impressed by the price anyone would have to pay to displease Rome. In addition to the slowness and pain of dying on a cross, those who were being executed were crucified nude. This added to their shame.

New Testament scholar William Barclay calls crucifixion “the dreadful routine.” Klausner, a Jewish historian, said, “Crucifixion is the most terrible and cruel death man has ever devised.” Cicero, who was well acquainted with it, said, “It was the most cruel and shameful of all punishments.” The condemned person was stripped naked, hands were nailed to the horizontal beam, and the feet were nailed to the vertical beam, and the cross was then raised and placed in a hole that had been dug in the ground.

There are instances on record of persons surviving for as many as nine days on the cross. Crucifixion was originally practiced by the Persians, passed on to the Egyptians, and finally adopted by the Romans. The Romans embraced it, refined it further, and used it frequently.

Scholars tell us that the arms of Jesus, when nailed to the raised cross, were in a “V” position. The pain in his wrists became difficult to endure. Muscle cramps knotted His forearms and upper arms and shoulders. The pectoral muscles at the side of His chest were momentarily paralyzed. This tended to induce an involuntary panic because He could pull in air, but found it difficult to exhale. It is not difficult to understand why Jesus had prayed in Gethsemane, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me (Matthew 26:39).

When I was in Israel in 1973 I stood below a hill that has the shape of a skull and is believed by many Christians around the world to be the one where Jesus was crucified between two persons charged with insurrection, found guilty, and crucified. Two thousand years ago it was just outside the city wall and beside a main road where those who passed by every day would be able to see those three raised crosses. Standing there, realizing what God’s Son did for me was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

The Bible says: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NASB). It then explains how our sin problem can be solved: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). In other words, Jesus took our penalty for sin upon Himself by dying in our place. But God’s plan for redeeming mankind was still not fully completed.

Beyond the cross was an empty tomb. This is news worth celebrating! Easter is coming!

 

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Jesus believed in prayer. He spent time in prayer. He taught His disciples to pray. He said that men ought always to pray and not to faint, and that every person’s life can be conditioned to high nobility and usefulness by prayer. His disciples believed this so strongly that they went forth and conquered a pagan world.

I have been a Christian minister for almost seventy years as the result of one person’s prayer. My maternal grandfather, a godly man who believed in and practiced prayer, prayed often that God would call one of his sons to be a minister. God didn’t call one of his sons into the ministry, but called two grandsons and a great-grandson instead. God often answers our prayers in a much greater way than we ask or can even dream possible.

But what is prayer? To some people it is just a grocery list of wants that is telephoned to Heaven’s Supermarket, which ends with these words: “I need these things right away, God – in fact, right now!” One of the finest statements I ever heard on prayer was made by a Gideon lay speaker several years ago: “If God existed only to meet your needs, you would be His master and He would be your servant. Prayer doesn’t work that way.” God is not an errand boy whose sole job is to deliver whatever we request. He answers prayer in three ways: “YES, NO, and NOT NOW”. Since He loves us, we can be assured that He will always answer in accordance with His will and in a way that is best for us.

Some people pray only when their back is against a difficult wall, or when a loved one dies. Prayer is much more than a telegram sent heavenward in the time of great difficulty. It is vastly more than a fire extinguisher hung on a wall, or a spare tire in the trunk of your car to be used only in the event of an emergency. If you would have God hear you when you pray, you must hear Him when He speaks. So, how should we define prayer?

First of all, prayer is companionship with God. It is the path whereby we may ascend into the presence of our Creator and Redeemer. We enter into His presence because He is God, and because He loves us. He created us in His image and gave us the ability to talk; this means He has the ability to hear. We should feel free to discuss anything with Him, but our primary objective should be a desire to feel the enrichment of His holy presence.

Second, prayer is conversation with God. Meaningful prayer is always a dialogue, not a monologue. F.W. Boreham tells the story of a minister who made a hospital call on a sick Scotsman. Upon entering the room he noticed another chair on the other side of the bed. The minister, assuming that he had recently had a visitor, pointed to the chair and said, “I see you have recently had a visitor.” “Aye,” the Scotsman replied, “I’ll tell you about that. Years ago I found that I could not pray. It had lost its power. When I knelt to pray I was so tired that I invariably fell asleep. Then I decided to place a chair in front of me, imagine that Jesus was sitting in it, and talk to Him like a friend.”

Two weeks later the Scotsman died. His daughter said to their minister when he arrived at their home, “When I went into his room, he was in the same position as when I left him last night, with one exception. He had put his hand in the chair beside his bed. Do you understand why he might have done that?” “Yes,” said the minister, “I understand.”

Finally, prayer is a time of cleansing. In a sinful world our lives can become dirty. Our inner lives can easily become disordered rooms with dingy windows, dusty walls, and dirty floors that need cleansing. God is in the cleansing business (see 1 John 1:9). That is why prayer is putting into practice our Lord’s advice when He said: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things (the necessities of life) will be given to you” (Matthew 6:33).

 

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Rickly Christian, in Alive, tells the story of one of America’s earliest missionaries to China, Henry Poppen. One day Dr. Poppen made an extended trek to a remote village he had not visited before. Though he had lived in China for more than 40 years, he knew of no Christian who had ever visited the secluded little town with its unadorned huts and simple people.

Thinking that they had never heard the story of God’s love, Dr. Poppen began to tell them the story of God’s love as revealed through Jesus Christ, His Son. The villagers listened patiently as he began trying to explain who Jesus was. He talked about Christ’s gentleness, His truthfulness, His all-encompassing love. The villagers nodded their heads and smiled. Some had moist eyes. He described how Jesus bore no grudges when wronged, how He lived for what He could give rather than for what He could get. He spoke about how Christ was selfless to the point of death.

The grizzled old villagers glanced back and forth with knowing eyes. Finally one of them spoke. “We know this man. Your ‘Jesus’ lived here in our village.”

Dr. Poppen smiled, but shook his head. Feeling that there was some misunderstanding, he explained that Christ had actually lived on earth two thousand years ago and many thousand miles away.

“No, no. He lived and died right here,” the old villager insisted strongly. Rising to his feet, he pointed off in the distance down a rutted dirt path. “Follow me. I’ll show you his grave.”

Dr. Poppen shrugged his shoulders and followed. He trudged along behind the pack of men and women as they guided him away from the huts to a Chinese cemetery. There they stopped at a headstone carved with the name of a Christian medical missionary – a man who felt God had led him to that secluded corner of the world to minister to human need and share the story of His love. He had lived and died there – his existence unknown even to other missionaries. Yet he was so Christ-like that Jesus of Nazareth was mistaken for “Jesus” of China.

The popular conception many Christians have is that a missionary is someone whom God has called in a unique way to go to a faraway place to tell the story of God’s love. Many have said to such people, “Why in the world would you consider burying yourself in China or Africa?” Actually, missionaries do not think of themselves as being “buried” in the places to which God calls them. Rather, they believe they have been “planted” by God for the purpose of bearing fruit for His glory.

This may be a new concept for you, but it is true: every Christian is a missionary – God’s representative or ambassador – to his or her corner of the world. The medical missionary in the story above had lived such a Christ-like life in serving the people in this remote Chinese village that when they heard a description of Jesus of Nazareth they were totally convinced He had lived among them.

If you are a Christian, you are a missionary. God wants you to be a missionary where you are — in your home, on your job, at your school, and in all the places where you have relationships. In each of these places you will meet and have the opportunity to influence people whom no other Christian can. That is why Christ, after He had washed His disciples’ feet, said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you” (John 13:15).

Christ said that His life is an example for us. If we will be faithful to the pattern He has set for us, others are bound to see Christ in our lives . . . and that is what being a missionary is all about.

Based on your commitment to live daily as a Christian, could those with whom you come in contact recognize that they have been in the presence of Christ?

 

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