2012 Review of “The Listening Post”

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Thank You WordPress.com

As a blog writer for wordpress.com, I am given a summary each year of the highlights and high moments from the past year of blogging.  It has been my joy and my privilege to share over 140 new articles in 2012.  These have primarily been stories of what God has been doing around the world through the ministry of Bible translation, in-depth studies on the Gospel of John, and a review of a book by Max Lucado.

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys have prepared a 2012 annual report for “The Listening Post“.  I hope you will enjoy this graphic designed report.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 16,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

God bless and Happy New Year!

Summary of Max Lucado’s Book “GOD’S STORY”

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Looking Back, Looking Forward

For the past ten months, we have been on a journey to learn more about God and ourselves as we have gone through Max Lucado’s book “GOD’S STORY, your story.”  Even though it has only been ten chapters long, it has helped us to look at the bigger picture of what God has done in the world (as seen through the pages of Scripture), and it has also helped us to see our lives from a bigger picture perspective.

Let me summarize in a sentence the journey through the pages of the New Testament that we have been on from chapter to chapter, and then remind us of what we have been learning about our own lives:

Chapter One: “Ordinary Matters”  The Son of God entered into the world and became part of a very ordinary Jewish family when He was born in the manger in Bethlehem.

Lesson: God has always delighted to use those things that are ordinary, i.e. a nomadic shepherd names Abraham, Mose’s walking stick, David’s harp, a donkey (who can talk by the way), a manger, a carpenter’s son, average Galileans.  That gives us great hope that God can use average and ordinary people like you and me.

Chapter Two: “You Know Satan’s Next Move”  Jesus was met head on by Satan before He ever performed any ministry.  The devil did everything he could to distract, to test and to tempt Jesus to take a short cut and serve himself rather than obey God.

Lesson: If Jesus, who is the Son of God, was tested and tempted in every way to sin against God the Father, then we should not be surprised when we encounter trials and temptations which would take us away from God.  Our answer should be like Jesus’ as He referred to God’s Word, “It is written….”

Chapter Three: “You Find Your True Home”  Jesus taught about a Kingdom of Heaven that was at hand.  He taught the multitudes to see that this world is not the only world, but rather is the precursor to the world to come.

Lesson: It is extremely easy for us today who live in such an affluent world to settle down and imagine that this is the “Real” life, and the “Abundant Life”.  But in many parables, Jesus tells us about how these material possessions will all disappear one day, and only by being in tune with God will we become members of His Kingdom, both now and forever.

Chapter Four: “You Hear A Voice You Can Trust”  Long before Jesus lived, there were many people who claimed to be a great prophet from God, or even the promised Messiah.  But Jesus  backed up His claim through His teachings, His miracles and ultimately His resurrection.

Lesson: There are many voices out there screaming for our attention, especially in this electronic and digital age we live in.  They offer so many promises, which are either so short-lived or just empty promises, we must come back to the One whose promises are all “Yes” and “Amen” in God the Father.

Chapter Five: “You Won’t Be Forsaken” There were so many broken and helpless people to whom Jesus ministered His love of healing and forgiveness.  Jesus would not forsake anyone who came to Him in faith and who had a need in their life.  Even when Jesus died on the Cross and seemed forsaken Himself by God, Jesus promised the repentant thief on the other cross that he would not be forsaken but arise to live in Paradise with God forever.

Lesson: We much be absolutely sure in our hearts that the love of Jesus covers over every sin and removes them as far as the east is from the west.  When it comes to our final day on earth, if we have put our faith in Christ, then we will not be forgotten or forsaken in the life to come.

Chapter Six: “Your Final Chapter Becomes A Preface”  On that Easter Friday evening, it looked like it was all over for this man, Jesus of Nazareth.  He died.  He was buried, He was sealed in a cave tomb.  But praise be to God, that was not His final chapter.  Now that Death was defeated, Jesus has much work to do to redeem His followers and bring them too out of death and into life.

Lesson: The grave is not the end of our lives.  It is just the beginning of our eternity with God.  I have often compared death with a graduation, as we leave this perishable life behind and gain a life that is imperishable.

Chapter Seven: “Power Moves In” Jesus told his disciples that they were to wait in Jerusalem until the power of God would come upon them.  Finally, the Holy Spirit would now become available for every believer in Christ who would empower them supernaturally to live godly lives and impact others with the Gospel.

Lesson: We are all called to be holy as God is holy and to share our faith with the world and help usher in the Kingdom of God.  By our own strength, we could not do this.  So praise God that we all have the Spirit of God living in us to help us be God’s ambassadors for Him.

Chapter Eight: “The Right Doors Open” Paul was the greatest of God’s ambassadors in the 1st century.  But even he experienced times when God would close doors that he wanted to go through, and open doors of opportunity that he had never expected.  And so the Gospel came over to Europe.

Lesson: There is nothing wrong with making plans, but we must check out these plans with the Lord.  For the Lord may have other plans for us, and they will be plans to help us and to prosper in our service for Him.

Chapter Nine: “All Things Work For Good” I’m sure there were times when Paul could not figure out who things were going to work out.  Especially when you consider the trials he went through.  But invariably, God used what happened to Paul to bring about even greater opportunities to witness and spread the Good News about Jesus.

Lesson: We too cannot look into the things that happen at times and know right then and there what good could come out of a terrible or tragic situation.  But then we will never have the perspective that God has on all of this.  Let us trust Him for the good that He promises to bring out of it.

Chapter 10: “God Will Come For You” God’s Word promises us that one day Jesus will return, and He will come with all the Armies of Heaven, the angels of God, who will come to gather those who believe in Jesus and we all together will see the ushering in of God’s Kingdom.

Lesson: God’s coming Kingdom will motivate His people to rejoice; but it will drive those who do not know Him to fear and despair.  The good news is that it is not too late to yet become a believer in Jesus.  Then when God comes for His children, then you too will welcome Jesus’ return, and be rewarded with eternal life with God forever.  I pray I will be seeing you there!

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* [God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

God’s Kingdom Will Come

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 19

We now come to the last chapter in this great book of Max Lucado’s that we have been looking at throughout this year.  As we have gone through the book, we have learned much about God and how He is very interested in and involved in our lives today.  That fact alone is a great encouragement to us, knowing that God is with us, guiding and helping us as we go through the difficult stages and events of life.

But now we must ask ourselves about what to expect at the end of our lives.  For those who do not even believe that God exists, or that there is anything past this life, they have absolutely nothing to look forward to at the end of their lives.  And that is why they try so desperately to experience and enjoy all that they can now.

But that is not really a satisfying answer for many people.  And for those who do believe that there is some kind of afterlife, there is often the accompanying feeling of fear or worry because they have no certainty that they will be granted access to the eternal life of joy and happiness.  Even those who joke about the idea of going to Hell would tremble at the picture of what Hell is really like as portrayed in the Bible.

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Blaise Pascal was a famous 17th century philosopher and mathematician.  He came up with what is known as “Pascal’s Wager“.  He stated that if we had to bet on whether God exists or not, then the obvious (or rational) decision would be to say that God does exist.  For if we gamble and say yes, and it is true, then we will win with eternal consequences.

Thankfully, as I believe, we do not need to wager as to whether God exists or not.  I work from the point of the resurrection backwards.  If Jesus (whom all people now state that he did actually live and die in 1st century Palestine), actually did rise from the dead, then all the things that He taught and claimed to be true, must be true.

Now giving evidence that supports the resurrection is a whole other topic, but I also believe that there is sufficient strength of evidence and testimony to support this.  Perhaps the best book I’ve ever read on this topic was written by Frank Morison called “Who Moved The Stone?”  Suffice it to say again, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then all that He taught about this life and the next life to come must be listened to as credible.

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And this brings us to the topic that Lucado writes about in chapter 10 of his book, namely that there is going to be a day when God will wrap up things here on earth and will usher in His eternal Kingdom.  This is really big news! And the Bible tells us that this will not be quiet or hidden like the first time that Jesus came to earth.  Mark 13:26 says, “Then everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory.

Jesus also talked about how His coming would be like lightning as it streaks across the sky.  Everyone is going to see this great event when Jesus comes back again.  But please note this, that great event will not be received the same way by everyone.  This is what Lucado says on page 158:

“There will be one monumental difference.  Some people will continue the confession they began on earth.  They will crown Christ again, gladly.  Others will crown him for the first time.  They will do so sadly.  They denied Christ on earth, so He will deny them in heaven.”

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 There is perhaps one aspect about the “Kingdom of Heaven” that some people sadly misunderstand.  There are many people who want to be included in God’s Kingdom, and many who believe that they are in fact going to be enjoying the rich blessings of heaven.  But if they have not made the King of the kingdom also the King of their lives here and now, then it will be too late when Christ returns to take His people back home to be with Him and the Father forever.

It is really quite heartbreaking to know that people all around us are unaware of the danger that is coming if they are not prepared to meet with God.  Matthew 24:37-39 puts it this way:

When the Son of Man returns, it will be like it was in Noah’s day. In those days before the flood, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered his boat. People didn’t realize what was going to happen until the flood came and swept them all away. That is the way it will be when the Son of Man comes.

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But for those who have accepted Christ into their hearts and made Him the Lord of their lives, this future day (which may not be too far away any more) will be the greatest day ever in all of history.  No matter how difficult life may have been here while on earth, the eternal life of God’s presence and His blessings for those who have faithfully loved Him and His Son will greatly outweigh all that has been so painful to bear in this life.

Let me close with a beautiful quote from Lucado on page 159:

“Let this sink in.  You will see the face of God.  You will look into the eyes of the One who has always seen; you will behold the mouth that commands history.  And if there is anything more amazing than the moment you see his face, it’s the moment he touches yours.  “He will wipe every tear from their eyes”  (Revelation 21:4)

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God Promises All Things Work For Good – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 17

If I were to ask you the question, “What is it that most concerns you?”, I’m positive that your answer would fall into at least one of these categories:

  • the economy, and specifically your job, or lack of a job, personal finances and debt
  • your health, involving fitness, sickness, dieting, medical coverage and more
  • your relationships,  spouse, children, dating partner, parents, or combination of them
  • your possessions, like how to get them, safeguard them, and upgrade them
  • state of the world, including war, poverty, crime, pollution, the ecology, etc.
  • deep questions, like is there a God, what’s life all about, what happens when we die

There are probably other categories that I could add to this list, but I think these six would cover the majority of concerns that most people think about and are anxious about.  Whatever it is that we might be worried about, there is one common element that weaves its way through all of these areas of life.  Namely this: uncertainty.  None of us can or ever will know what will happen in the future, and that can lead us to frustration and anxiety.

For many months now, I have been writing articles on the topics that Max Lucado has included in his book “GOD’S STORY, your story.”  In chapter nine, Lucado does an excellent job of helping us to realize that even though we often fail to understand what is happening in our lives and why they are happening to us, that God is still in control of the situation and is at work all the time to bring good out of the situation.

On page 137, Lucado writes this:

We know…. There are so many things we do not know.  We do not know if the economy will dip or if our team will win.  We do not know what our spouse is thinking or how our kids will turn out.  We don’t even know “what we ought to pray for” (Romans 8:26).  But according to Paul (in Romans 8:28), we can be absolutely certain about four things.

Lucado goes on to state what those four things are, and I will summarize what he has to say to us.  Let me quote Romans 8:28 here so you have the context in front of you.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  The first thing we know is that “God is at work…”  This immediately counters two negative positions, the idea that there is no God (Atheism), and the idea that while He may have created the world, He is no longer involved with it (which is called Deism).

No, God is very much at work in our world.  And the good news is that “God is at work for our good…”  This will counter a number of negative ideas about the character of God.  Some people think God is a punishing god, sitting up in heaven with a big stick and just waiting for us to step out of line at which point He will whack us.  Neither is God an ambivalent god who doesn’t care about what happens in our lives.  But He also isn’t a bigger version of Santa Claus who panders to our every wish and whim.  Rather, God is actively seeking to do that which is going to be for our very best, helping us where we most need help.

     

The third thing that Romans 8:28 tells us is that “God is working for the good of those who love Him…”    I will repeat what I said above, that God is not a punishing god.  But on the other hand, God is definitely seeking to bless and reward those people who have committed their lives to Him, to live in obedient service and worship to Him and His Son, Jesus Christ.  That does put the responsibility upon us to be actively seeking to please our God.  And the neat thing about God and His blessings is that as we share the blessings that God gives to us with others, the more that He ends up blessings us.  When we become a conduit of His love, then we end up experiencing even more of His grace and love.  Isn’t that fantastic!!!

Finally, the last thing, and perhaps the most important thing, is that “God is at work in all things…”  If we truly believe this, then we can face any circumstance or situation in life.  When things are just clicking along and everything seems to be falling into place, we can thank our God who is actively bringing about these wonderful blessings in our lives.  But then when things are not going well, even in the most challenging moments of life, we can be confident that God will do all He can to bring good out of that situation, no matter how terrible it might be.

     

As many of my readers already know, our family has faced many difficult and trying experiences in life.  I think of all the categories I listed above, I believe that critical health challenges are the hardest to face as those are usually the most out of our control events.  In our immediate family then, from 2002 – 2005, our older son went through three years of chemotherapy to battle against the leukemia in his body.  Then, from 2008 until the present, I have battled with my genetically inherited muscle disease that has limited my mobility and has caused extreme levels of pain.

And yet, for both me and my son, we have seen God’s hand upon our lives in special and powerful ways that we would never have experienced had we remained in good health.  And for both of us, who have remained strong in our faith in God, we have seen our lives and testimonies touch countless numbers of other people.  And in many ways, this has come about because we believe the promise within Romans 8:28, “that is all things, God works for the good to those who love Him.

     

* [God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

A Response to Max Lucado’s “Open Doors” – Pt. 2

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A few weeks ago, I wrote two articles the dealt with the topic “God Opens Doors and God Closes Doors.”  These articles were based off of chapter eight of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story.”  I received a response from one of my readers who raised some interesting points and asked some good questions.  I would like to paste part of his comment and try to give a good response to him.

“I have not read Max Lucado’s book so my thoughts are incomplete. However I want to address one aspect of what you are saying.  It is common for people, particularly Christians to say, “if its of God, then the door will be open, if it’s not then the door will be closed”.  This all sounds fine, but it lacks scriptural evidence and it also ignores the same activities of Satan. It may sometimes be true, but we first need to actually hear from God before assuming such a fact.

Door open, door closed are not paths we can assume are God’s. They may confirm a path -alongside other indicators, but only a fool would blindly assume.  The problem with just letting your path be defined by open or shut doors is that it absolves a believer from listening and discerning the voice of God. It avoids relationship.

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In Part 1 of my response to my reader (read here), I shared a number of verses that do support the idea that God can direct our paths by “opening the doors of opportunity” to do something.  But God can also “close doors” on something that we pursue by putting obstacles in our way that do not allow us to pursue that path.

This does not invalidate at all the comments of my friend above.  If we were to rely only on this one test to confirm God’s will for our lives, we do in fact assume too much about God’s hand in our lives.  Some “doors” may be open to us just because of favorable circumstances.  On the other hand, when we encounter difficult roadblocks, this may be due to the activity of Satan resisting us, and instead of walking away and saying “this is of God”, this might be the time to truly press forward by faith and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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What we need then are other good criteria to help us determine what paths we ought to follow or not follow in our desire to do God’s will.  Over the years, I have found that there are a number of other ways in which we can confirm what God would want us to do or not to do.  Most of these “tests” have Scripture to back them up, and also make good common sense.

The very best answer I can give in knowing God’s will for our lives is for us to always check things out first with God’s Word.  An easy example of this is something that I have actually heard happen.  One woman told me, “God has told me that it is okay for me to divorce my husband.  This is not the man that God intended me to marry.”

While the second statement might contain some truth in it, seeing as we so often do go after what our heart desires and fail to ask in the beginning if this is what God would want.  But the first statement is not only wrong, it is a lie that comes from Satan.  Jesus is quite clear in Matthew 5:31-32, “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’  But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

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If we carefully read our Bibles, we would see that there are many general and specific guidelines that God lays out for us as to how to live our lives day-to-day.  I do recognize that not every situation in our lives will be covered in detail in the Bible though, so we must have other ways to test if some course of action might be of God or not.

Thankfully, we do have the Holy Spirit within us, who will not only empower us to live godly lives, but He will also help to direct us in our lives.  Read John 16:12-16 to see how Jesus promises us that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth, will make known what is to come, and will disclose things to us that Christ has made known to the Spirit.  I take this to mean we will have the guidance of the Holy Spirit to help us to know what courses to pursue in life.

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In addition to God’s Word, and the leading of God’s Spirit, we must also remember that we belong to Christ’s body, the Church.  And by being active members of a church, we can have access to good godly advice from godly men and women.  Proverbs 12:15 speak towards this, “The way of fools seems right to them, but the wise listen to advice.”  There is much wisdom that could be gained if we would just ask our elders in the faith.

And finally, I believe that as we faithfully and regularly give to God in prayer our questions about which decision to make, God will confirm in our spirits what choice to make.  It is this quiet inner peace that God grants which I believe often will guide us, for true inner peace comes from God, while fear and anxiety come from the devil.  But remember, listen to God first, and then listen to your heart.  I don’t think you will go wrong.

Walking In The Power of the Holy Spirit – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 14

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 7: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
POWER MOVES IN

Question #2: The chapter asks, “What got into Peter?”  How would you answer this question?  (See Acts 2:4, 17-18.)

It should be rather obvious to anyone who reads the Gospel books (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John) and compares the stories that deal with Peter there with what happens in Acts chapter 2 that Peter had become quite a changed man.  In the Gospel accounts, Peter was known to be hot-headed, loud-mouthed and then a cowardly man when the chips were down.  But in Acts 2, we see Peter was publicly bold as he clearly articulated the message of the Gospel and the need for people to repent of their sin and turn to Jesus for their salvation.

This kind of transformation is something that is normally impossible for a person to do on their own.  Although we do read of stories where someone is suddenly heroic in a dangerous situation, and there are plenty of “self-help” books out there.  For the most part, people do not change drastically in such a powerful and positive way like Peter did, unless something outside of themselves happens which has the power to cause such a change.  By reading more of the biblical account, we discover that it is the resurrected Christ, and the release of the Holy Spirit into his life that brings about this newly transformed Peter.

Question #3: These days, do you feel more like the early Peter or the later one?  Or do you vacillate between the two in any given week?

This is a good question.  And I believe that for myself, and probably for most Christians, the truth is that we do a lot of vacillating between being alive and vibrant in our faith and then sinking into times of discouragement and spiritual desert experiences.  For some Christians though, they may start out their journey of faith quite strong, but through the busyness of life and through neglect of spiritual disciplines and activities, their spiritual vitality slowly fades until there is not much left of their original zeal for God.

Speaking for myself again, I don’t think that I flip-flop in my spiritual life on a weekly basis.  But I can look back over the years and say that there have been “seasons of life” which can be marked with greater or lesser spiritual vitality.  I don’t consider these long ups and downs to be necessarily bad, as much as they reflect the ebb and flow of life itself.  What I do consider to be important though, is whether or not the kernel of faith in Christ remains strong, especially during those dry spells and tough periods in life that happen to us all.

I have found that I have reflected often on that great poem “Footprints” over the years.  It is great when life is going along well and we feel very connected with God.  Those are the times when we can look back and see both of our footprints going along side-by-side in the sand.  But during those tough times of life, when we even feel like God has abandoned us, and we only see one set of footprints in the sand, that is when God says to us, “Those were the times that I carried you.”  That is what my faith is like for the most part.  I believe God is walking beside me, or He is carrying me, and in either case, God strengthens me to be able to handle whatever life dishes out to me.

Question #4: What was the difference between Jesus living near the disciples and the Spirit living in them?  What were the results?  Do you long for such results in your life?  What difference might that make in your life right now?

When Jesus lives among the disciples, they saw the power of God at work through all that Jesus did.  But once Jesus released the Holy Spirit to live within the disciples, they found that they had the power of God within themselves to do all the things that they had once seen Jesus do.  What a wonderful thing that must have been to go from being witnesses of God’s power to being instruments of God’s power.

In the years that I have been in ministry, both here in North America and in overseas mission work, I have definitely seen the power of God active in the lives of others as well as being released through me to impact other people.  I have had spiritual encounters with evil forces and demonic beings.  I’ve experienced healing in my life in the past and am seeing it happen in the present.  God is very much alive in today’s world.

What we need to do is to first believe that this spiritual power is available to us to do God’s work and will in the world.  And then keep our eyes open, both to look up to God for our daily strength and to look out around for opportunities to act on God’s behalf.  When we do this, then God will bring about the circumstances to work in and through us to impact the world.  But just remember one thing: it is always about God and His power in us, never about us and what we think we can do.  That’s how we walk in the power of the Holy Spirit.

                                          

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Death Is Just The Beginning – Pt. 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 11

Death!  It seems so final.  A Person is born, lives a number of years – perhaps as much as 100 years – and then dies.  That’s it, lights out!  Into the grave or the crematorium goes the body.  All that is left is the ashes or a slowly rotting body in the ground until there is nothing left of that person except a few bones.  The only way to identify who lay there is a name etched on stone, and perhaps teeth that can be matched to a dental record.

This is the ending that every person who has lived on this earth has to look forward to.  There is no escaping it.  As our author (Max Lucado) quotes on page 96 from Fred Carl Kuechner:

“Death is the most democratic institution on earth….It allows no discrimination, tolerates no exceptions.  The mortality rate of mankind is the same the world over:  one death per person.”

Looking at it this way, it would be easy to become either very depressed about life, or to value it so much as to try to get everything you can before the end comes.  And the worst part is that none of us know the future, so we really don’t know how many more days or years we have left to live.  No wonder there are so many people today who follow the saying, “Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

    

As a missionary who lived in a remote village of Papua New Guinea for five years, death took on a whole new reality for me.  The only people who were close to me and died before going to PNG were my grandmother and my sister.  My grandmother was 88 years old and the funeral was a celebration of a believer in Christ and a life well lived.  My sister died while in Jamaica in her 30’s and we held a memorial service for her.  Death hit our family, but I never really saw it up close.

This changed quickly when we went and lived in our little village in the jungle.  In those five years, there were quite a number of deaths: some people died of old age; some children died from cerebral malaria and some from eating rotten food which led to fatal food poisoning; and some women died in child-bearing due to retained placenta.  The worst experience was watching one of my best friends and a co-translator suffer over a six month period and finally die due to a brain tumour.

    

What made these deaths so hard to witness was watching the despair and the fear that everyone else displayed at the time of these deaths.  There is nothing else I know that is so piercing of a sound that cuts deeply into your heart and soul as when the shrieking death wail went up when someone died.  That piercing cry is started by a family member as soon as the person dies, and then it is joined by other family members and friends when they come to the hut to share in the sorrow.

Day and night this wailing can be heard across the village for days.  But even as the death wail continues, rumours and murmuring go on among the people, for everyone is asking the question, “What evil spirits were involved, and who among the village is responsible for these deaths.  These are the natural questions that are asked by people who live in an animistic culture.  They live in fear of all the evil spirits that surround them, and they fear death most of all.

    

 The Bible on the other hand, speaks to us about the victory that we can have over death.  Up until the time that Jesus lived, the world did lie under the curse of disease, destruction, despair and finally death.  Bur Jesus broke that power of death by rising Himself back from the dead.  He was then able to say along with the Psalmist, “O death, where is thy sting; O grave, where is thy victory?”

Jesus told His disciples in advance that He would die, but also that after three days in the grave He would rise again and be alive.  The promise Jesus gave was that just as He would conquer the grave and live again, so also would the people who put their trust in Him.  It is at this very point, this claim of resurrection life, that the whole of Christian faith stands.  If Jesus claims (as He did) to grant life after death, but He Himself never rose physically from the grave, then all His promises are not worthy to be accepted as true.

    

 Now some people still think today that Jesus’ claims were outrageous and couldn’t be true.  The most obvious alternative would be to say that the disciples invented this hoax, or at least created this myth about Jesus and the “risen Christ”.  But I challenge any person to read the last few chapters of all the gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  The Bible presents terrified disciples, and women who went to the tomb expecting to find a dead body there.

But instead, we see very quickly a faith story burst out after very serious misgivings and denials of the resurrection.  And those men all went on to become martyrs for their faith.  Only a true and real resurrection can account for this change.  And so, if Jesus did rise from the dead, then death is no longer the end of the story for all of us.  Therefore, we do not need to be afraid of death anymore.

Rather then an ending, death can be seen to be a beginning, a new start to an eternal life with God.  In fact, I see death as simply a doorway that all of us must go through one day.  Or perhaps an even better picture is that death becomes a graduation from this limited life to the unlimited life in the next one.  Hallelujah, He is risen.  And one day, so will we.

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Jesus Suffered So That We Might Live – Pt 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 10

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 5: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOU WON’T BE FORSAKEN

Question #1: What does “forsaken” mean to you?  Share a time in your life when you felt forsaken.  How did someone encourage you?

The word “forsaken” to me has got to be one of the loneliest and saddest words in our English vocabulary.  It would be one thing to go off by yourself and feel alone.  It would be similar if say perhaps you had an accident, like a boat crash, and you were marooned and isolated on a remote island.  Yet these two kinds of experiences would not be as bad as “forsaken”, because you could either choose to join people again, or at least have the hope that you could be rescued and be with people again.

But to be forsaken means that there were plenty of other people around, but they all left for one reason or another, and then you were completely left by yourself.  You were abandoned, and you had no hope of rejoining the group.  I recall very vividly the few times that a baseball game or football game was started in our park or school ground, and I was not chosen to be on a team.  Everyone lined up, and they took turns picking team mates.  I was the last one, and even then, neither captain of the two teams wanted me.  They left to play the game, and I was forsaken.

    

Thankfully I have matured past those silly old ball game days.  But at that age I do remember feeling left out of life itself and didn’t seem to be accepted anywhere.  I praise my God that He found me, and I found Him, and invited Christ into my life.  Ever since that, I have always known that I am accepted by God and would never be alone again.

As a Christian adult and aspiring missionary though, there was still a moment when I felt rejected and forsaken.  Jill and I had made a tentative start with one mission group, and had submitted our application.  But just as I thought they were going to accept us, they told us that “we were not ready yet”, and that there were some life issues and finances to get straightened out first.  I felt so rejected.  But again, I praise God that a caring friend a few years later said, “I thought you were going to be a missionary?”  So we moved forward again, and that time we were accepted and we have been doing Bible translation work ever since.

Question #4: How crucial is the cross to your personal story?  In what ways has the fact that Jesus died on the cross changed your life?  How would your life be different today if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross?

This is an easy question for me in some ways.  Simply put, without Christ and His offer of spiritual life through His death, I would be so truly lost and messed up, not just in this life, but for eternity.  I now know as I look back over the years, that if I had not accepted Christ, then I would have become such a self-centered and self-serving person.  But knowing that Jesus, God’s Son, gave up his life for me so that I could live, that helps me to give up my life to serve others in order that they too might live eternally with God in the glorious Kingdom that He will usher in one day.  All I can say is “Thank you, Jesus!”

                                          

[Editor’s Note:  In the “Ideas” part in this section for Chapter Five at the back of his book, Lucado challenges his readers to consider what we used to be like and how we felt before we knew Christ and accepted Him into our lives, and then what our lives became after we invited Christ into our lives.  He suggests making a list of the two sides, a “Before” and an “After” shot.  He provides some good examples for us.  I challenge my readers to look this chart over and then make a list.  You can use some of Lucado’s examples if they fit, but try to think of other features so you can reflect well on your true identity as it stands now by being “in Christ“.]

OLD

NEW

I was alone because of sinful choices.

I am complete in Christ.

I was accused and ashamed.

I am free from condemnation.

I was fearfully running from God’s purpose  for my life.

I am established and anointed.

I was lazy and unmotivated.

I am God’s co-worker.

I was harming my body with my actions.

I am God’s workmanship.

I was living without care or responsibility.

I am a royal priest in God’s eyes.

I was unethical.

I am honest and hard-working.

I was a bad parent.

I am a good, intentional parent.

I was feeling forsaken.

I am forgiven.

I was prone to wander.

I am a faithful spouse.

I was addicted.

I am dependent only on God.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

                                           

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

Jesus Suffered So That We Might Live – Pt 1

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 9

In John 10:10, Jesus tells his disciples (and by extension He tells all of us too) that He came into this world in order that people might truly live and have an abundant life.  Most Christians understand that this refers to the renewed spiritual life we can have with God once we accept Jesus as our Lord and have our sins forgiven.  But that is not all that Jesus is talking about.

Sadly, there are still many believers in Christ who have accepted Jesus into their lives, but also believe that there still must be something that they must “do” to really experience complete forgiveness of their sins.  This wrong thinking not only robs the cross of Christ of its full meaning and impact, but it also robs the person of experiencing the fuller life which they can live in the freedom that has been purchased for them on the cross.

    

 Max Lucado points out very well in chapter five of his book “GOD’S STORY, your story” that we tend to hang on to our faults and mistakes and that this is like putting on old clothes that declare “We are sinners!”  And since we are the ones who keep putting these old clothes back on, we think that it is also up to us to “do good” to be able to remove these old sins and faults.

Listen to how Lucado sums this up on page 83:

Welcome to the vest system.  Hard to hide it.  Harder still to discard it.  But we work at doing so.  Emphasis on the word “work”.  Overcome bad deeds with good ones.  Offset bad choices with godly ones, stupid moves with righteous ones.  But the vest removal process is flawed.  No one knows what work to do or how long to do it.

When we really understand the message of the Bible as it speaks about how we are all flawed and sinful people (see Romans 3:23), we also come to realize that there is nothing that we can do to fix this and become righteous people in God’s sight.  That is the bad news.  But the good news is that we don’t have to “do” anything, besides accept Christ and His death to be our substitution for the penalty for sin (see Romans 6:23).

    

Hooray!  Wonderful!!  We can’t take off our dirty rags of sin, but Jesus can!!!  That’s great news.  And it gets even better.  Lucado says on page 87:

You can remove your vest.  Toss the thing in a trash barrel, and set it on fire.  You need never wear it again.  Does better news exist?  Actually, yes.  There is more.  We not only remove our vest; we put on His!  He is “our righteousness”  (1 Corinthians 1:30).

How incredible and amazing is God’s love!  When we were sinners, God still loved us (see Romans 5:8), but as a holy God, He could not bear to look at us in our state of sinfulness.  If that were the end of the story, then God would have to leave us abandoned and forsaken, something that happens all too often in families today.

But as Jesus was dying on the cross, not for any crime or sin that He had committed, He took our sins upon himself (read Isaiah 53:12) and exchanged his robes of righteousness with us so that we could be considered holy by God.  In that brief but climactic moment before Jesus died, as He carried all of our sins to the grave, He exclaimed “God, why have You forsaken Me?”  Jesus allowed himself to be forsaken at that moment in order that we might no longer be forsaken by God.

    

At that moment, we passed out from under the curse of sin and death and entered into the light and life of God.  As I said near the beginning of this article, this life definitely refers to the gift of eternal spiritual life with God as people freed from captivity to sin.  But Scripture also promises us so much more richness of life while we are still living on this earth.

Perhaps the word that can sum it up best is the word “freedom”.  By placing our lives under the authority of Christ, He releases us so that we are free from sin, free from the power of Satan, and even free from self as we are so apt to keep ourselves bound to our old habits and behaviours that trip us up and end up creating more misery in our lives.

    

Once we embrace all of this, then we can truly live.  We will live to love our neighbour, to love our God, and even properly learn how to love and forgive ourselves.  It is at this point that we will then begin to really experience great family lives, great marriages, and great friendships with others.  At this point, we will be content and even prosper in our businesses and careers in life, because God’s blessings will be upon us.

And then when the end of our lives do come, we will graduate from a great life here to a fabulous life there.  As Lucado says, our names will be “written in the Book of the Lamb.  Not in pencil marks that can be erased, but with blood that will not be removed.  No need to keep God happy; He is satisfied.  No need to pay the price; Jesus paid it ALL!

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

* If this article has been helpful to you and a blessing, please invite your friends to come visit this devotional blog site.

Jesus Is Someone You Can Trust – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 8

At the end of Max Lucado’s book, “GOD’S STORY, your story“, there are study questions and activities to consider that relate to each chapter.  I invite you to read the book, and look over the entire question and application section.  In my articles, I will usually only pick up on two or three questions and relate them to my own experiences.

                                          

Chapter 4: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOU HEAR A VOICE YOU CAN TRUST

Question #1: Create a list of the voices that compete for our attention today.  Discuss how we respond to these voices.

There are so many voices today that cry out for our attention.  There are the needs of one’s family and friends; there is the constant pressure of work; we are bombarded by advertisements to draw us in deeper into our commercial capitalism; and then there are so many voices that cry out to us hedonistically to simply sit back and enjoy the pleasures that this world has to offer.  It can be too much for some of us to bear at times.

That is why I truly believe in the need for a quiet time with God.  I read my Bible most every morning while I eat my breakfast.  I have to eat every morning, and so this helps to give me a routine for spending time in God’s Word.  I also shower just about every day.  And in those 20 minutes of alone time, I keep my eyes closed and allow God to speak to me about what I should do with this day and things I should do in the future.  If nothing else, I do these two things to stay in regular touch with God to help His voice to come through louder than the voices of the world.

Question #4: Some scholars say that Jesus never claimed to be God.  Look up Scriptures that relate to the identity of Jesus.  How do such passages influence your view of who Jesus is?

Mark 2:27-28  And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.”

Luke 5:20  And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

John 1:1, 14  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God….And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

John 11:43-44  When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.” The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Philippians 2:8-11  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. ThereforeGod has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesusevery knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ isLord, to the glory of God the Father.

Hebrews 1:2-3  But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

2 Peter 1:16-17  For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,”

Not only did Jesus claim to have authority over religious ritual and over the right to forgive sins, He proved himself by healing many, even bringing Lazarus back from the dead.  He then himself died and rose again from the dead (there is just too much evidence to not belief something supernatural happened at the tomb of Jesus).  And then those cowardly disciples go on to write the other New Testament books that describe Jesus’ Lordship and most of them died for that belief.  I have no other choice but to believe that Jesus really was who He said He was, the very Son of God.

Question #5: What is the best way to have constructive conversations with someone who thinks Jesus was just a good moral teacher?

It is important to help these kind of people to see that Jesus made great claims to divinity.  The verses above, plus much more will show that.  If this is true, then we cannot just say Jesus is a good moral teacher and ignore His claims.  As C.S. Lewis has so aptly pointed out (see Question #3 in the book), if this claim were not true, Jesus would have to either be a lunatic (with self deranged thoughts of grandeur), or He was a liar (and pulled the greatest deception of all time), or He is really the Lord of the Universe.

So a good moral person cannot be also a lunatic or liar.  That leaves us with Jesus being Lord.  If a person can accept what Jesus teaches as being very good for all mankind, then one must also come to the conclusion that Jesus is also able to be the Lord of all mankind.  I have accepted this, and my life has been changed positively ever since.

                                          

[God’s Story, Your Story] Max Lucado.  Copyright [Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2011]  Used by permission.

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