Death Is Just The Beginning – Pt. 2

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“GOD’S STORY, your story” – Pt. 12

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 6: When God’s Story Becomes Yours….
YOUR FINAL CHAPTER BECOMES A PREFACE

Question #2: What experiences have most influenced your view of your own mortality?  When have you grappled with your own death or the deaths of those you know and love?

In some of my articles, I have shared about how frequently there were deaths among the people in the village where we lived and worked in Papua New Guinea.  The average age span for a Papuan is about 46 years.  And there were quite a number of children who died at birth or within the first two years.  Even mothers were dying due to retained placentas.  So death was all around us.  All of these deaths made us quite aware of our mortality.

Interestingly, there was a death of a different kind that shook up our family and brought about a transformation in the life of one of our sons, Glen.  He was only 6 years old and we had just been in PNG for a couple of months.  He was playing with a kitten and didn’t think anything of it when he threw the kitten up in the air and then caught it.  But the one time he missed catching the kitten, it fell and broke its neck and died.

Needless to say, we had a long talk that day, my son and I.  Then we went out to the jungle and buried it.  Glen then asked questions about life in general and what happens when a person dies.  That led to a long discussion about life after death, and the need to believe in Jesus who grants eternal life.  He already knew a lot about the Bible.  But now he had to grapple with the question of eternal life after death.  Praise God, eight months later Glen accepted Jesus into his life and had his name written in God’s Book of Life.

Question #3: What would you say to someone who claims to be spiritual but doesn’t believe in the resurrection?  How would you describe the role the resurrection plays in your own life?  What difference does it make?

It would seem to me that if a person said that they were “spiritually-minded” but did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, then in reality that person would be either performing humanitarian acts of charity and calling that “spiritual”, or they are trapped in the concept of “doing good deeds” in the hope that their “goodness” would be sufficient to save them from Hell and God’s punishment against the sinfulness of man.

As a Christian, I recognize that there would never be enough good deeds that I could do that would make up for or “pay” for my sins.  My goodness could never wipe out my bad deeds I have done in life.  My only hope would be if there was someone else who was perfect and without sin who could agree to take my punishment from God for my sins that I would be free from the penalty of sin.

That is what Jesus did on the cross.  That takes care of my sin.  But if that is all, then we can only see death as the final act of life.  But by Jesus rising from the grave, He proved that He had power over the most powerful thing we know in this life, and that is Death.  Jesus’ resurrection proved His power and His authority to give life to those who die.  And since our sins are forgiven, then we can rise in this resurrection life as perfect, sinless people who will live with God forever.

Question #4: Do Christians today act more like the disciples behaved before or after the resurrection?  What could we do to be “resurrection people” in the way we worship, serve, and relate to one another?

I am very concerned for Christians today, especially those who live in the affluent democratic countries of the world.  Life for most people, including Christians, so easily becomes one of materialism.  Jesus warns us to not build our treasures here on earth.  Those who do, so often they work so hard to get them, and then they worry about losing them, and life is all about material possessions instead of seeing life and others around through the eyes of God.

What we must remember is that all these things will pass away and be destroyed.  We cannot take these earthly treasures to heaven.  And those who do not follow after God in this life, will not live with Him in the next life.  We must put a high priority on helping our family members, friends and neighbors to come to know Jesus.  Bigger homes, nicer cars, and even beautiful church buildings will mean nothing if we are not telling others about Jesus.

I’m not saying we have to become preachers, evangelists or missionaries.  But we must put God and others first in our lives.  And people must see that our words and our actions are consistent and spiritually attractive so that they might turn to us when they find that they are in a time of real need in their lives.  As the saying goes, “We may be the only Bible that people ever read.”  So let’s let our lives shine the truth and love of God to others for the sake of their eternal destiny.

                                          

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

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Witnesses Who Tell Us Who Jesus Is

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John 5:31 – 47

31 If I speak for myself, there is no way to prove I am telling the truth.32 But there is someone else who speaks for me, and I know what he says is true. 33 You sent messengers to John, and he told them the truth. 34 I don’t depend on what people say about me, but I tell you these things so that you may be saved. 35 John was a lamp that gave a lot of light, and you were glad to enjoy his light for a while.

36 But something more important than John speaks for me. I mean the things that the Father has given me to do! All of these speak for me and prove that the Father sent me. 37 The Father who sent me also speaks for me, but you have never heard his voice or seen him face to face. 38 You have not believed his message, because you refused to have faith in the one he sent.

39 You search the Scriptures, because you think you will find eternal life in them. The Scriptures tell about me, 40 but you refuse to come to me for eternal life.

41 I don’t care about human praise, 42 but I do know that none of you love God. 43 I have come with my Father’s authority, and you have not welcomed me. But you will welcome people who come on their own.44 How could you possibly believe? You like to have your friends praise you, and you don’t care about praise that the only God can give!

45 Don’t think that I will be the one to accuse you to the Father. You have put your hope in Moses, yet he is the very one who will accuse you. 46 Moses wrote about me, and if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me. 47 But if you don’t believe what Moses wrote, how can you believe what I say?

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Jill and I enjoy reading books.  We do have slightly different tastes in the stories we read though.  I’m much more of the science fiction intense espionage kind of guy, while Jill likes to read a good suspense legal thriller with lots of courtroom drama.  So I will read about aliens and distant galaxies or a book by Tom Clancy, and Jill might read an Agatha Christie or John Grisham novel.  But I can appreciate a good legal thriller too.  And that is partly what we have here in these verses of John.

When we watch a legal fiction story on TV today, we all watch as the sleuths and the police search to find the one witness who will “make the case” and put the bad guys away for good.  Sometimes, the most important piece of evidence is not even a person, but an item which ties the criminal to the crime.  And now in our modern scientific world, all that is needed sometimes is just a tiny bit of DNA to close the case.

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That is not what it was like though in first century Judaism.  When someone was accused of wrong doing, it was very clear in the Law of Moses what standards needed to be applied in the case.  Deuteronomy 19:15 tells us what that was: “One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offense they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  This standard for gathering solid evidence of something needs to be kept in mind as we look briefly into John 5:31-47.

Now we all realize that Jesus is not actually standing in front of the court and facing accusers at this time.  (That would come later.)  But in many ways, with the persecution of the Jewish authorities heating up, Jesus was being put into the court of public opinion.  Some people were believing that He was in fact the Son of God, and that He had the authority of God Himself to do all the miracles which He did.  On the other hand, there was a growing opposition arising against Jesus, what He did, and what He taught.

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So Jesus challenges his “accusers” in this passage and lays down some pretty solid evidence with regards to who He really is.  First of all, Jesus mentions the testimony of John the Baptist.  Go back to John chapter one and read how John declares that God sent him baptizing people for the express purpose of discovering and revealing who Jesus was.  He saw the Holy Spirit come down upon Jesus at the baptism and then declared, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

As much as John the Baptist was respected as a great prophet, Jesus then goes on to say that there is a greater witness than John.  He basically says, “Look at the works (i.e. “miracles”) that I do, and they will tell you exactly who I am.”  And in fact, God Himself is called upon as a witness.  God declared openly, “This is My Son in whom I am well pleased.”  (See Mark 1:11)  And further, many of the Jews knew that only a person approved by God Himself could do the kinds of miracles that Jesus did.  Remember what Nicodemus said in John 3:2?  “For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

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Jesus has already given three key witnesses which clearly show Jesus to be “one sent from God.”  But the Jewish leaders might not accept these testimonies.  So then Jesus hits them right where they lived.  He claimed that the Scriptures (i.e. the Old Testament), and even Moses in his writings could back up Jesus’ claim of being the great Messiah and the One promised by God to be the Savior of the world.  How much more evidence did they need to believe in Jesus?

And I now ask this question to all who read this.  Look at the wondrous universe we live in.  Look at the new born baby.  Remember when you “could have been killed” in a near-accident.  Look into the lives of really alive Christians who used to be not so nice people, but God changed them.  How much evidence do you need to know that what the Bible proclaims about God, about Christ, and those who follow Him in loving obedience are all true as well.  Think on that my friend.  Don’t be closed like these Jewish leaders were.

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Run The Christian Race

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Dumb Criminal & Christian Endurance

Probably many of us by now have heard a number of “Dumb Criminal” stories that make us chuckle as well as shake our head. Such as, did you hear about the criminal that the police were able to easily follow in the dark until they caught him? He had forgotten that he was wearing his sneakers that blink a bright red light every time you take a step. Or how about the bank robber who wrote, “This is a holdup,” on the back of a personal check that had his home address on it.

These stories sound both ridiculous and funny at the same time, don’t they? It really is amazing how some people can do the most foolish things, and also try to get away with things that ultimately will only hurt them in the end. Here is another story that illustrates this point:

David Posman 33, was arrested in Providence, R.I, after allegedly knocking out an armored car driver and stealing the closest four bags of money. It turned out they contained $800 in PENNIES, weighed 30 pounds each, and slowed him to a stagger during his getaway so that police officers easily jumped him from behind.

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Now consider what one person said after reflecting on this story:

David Posman is not the first person to make the mistake of trying to run while being weighed down. In fact, it happens spiritually all the time. The Hebrew writer talks about sin being a weight that keeps us from effectively running the Christian race. We can get bogged down with things that pull us away from God. And, by the way, as with Posman, those things that are weighing us down are not worth nearly as much as we thought they were when we grabbed hold of them.

And here is the verse in Hebrews that the person was thinking of:

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

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As we look at this verse in Hebrews, we will notice that there are three important aspects in this verse. First, there are the “witnesses” that surround us. Secondly, there are the things that weigh us down and the sins that ensnare us and hinder us from running a good race. And then finally, there is the aspect that we need to run our Christian race with endurance.

So who are these “witnesses” who are watching us as we live out our Christian lives? Many have felt that this is a spiritual reference to God and all the angels who are watching us here on earth. Textually, these witnesses could refer back to all of the “heroes of the faith” of whom we read about throughout Chapter 11 of Hebrews. Others have thought that this could simply refer to the people around us.

In any case, whichever interpretation we might agree with, there is one more imagery aspect that I want to highlight at this point. The idea of others watching as we run our race creates the image for us that we are in an Olympic type event surrounded by many spectators who were cheering us on to cross the finish line. That image helps us to understand the powerful point that the writer is trying to make here.

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Imagine an Olympic marathon runner wearing heavy shoes, extra layers of clothes, and carrying a heavy backpack. There is no way that runner could ever win the race, let alone even finish the race. And that is what our spiritual lives are being compared to if we allow sin or otherworldly distractions to keep us from focusing on our goal of winning the prize of being called to be children of God here, and inheritors of eternal life in the hereafter.

But not only are we called to live godly Christian lives, Scripture tells us that we are to run this race with endurance. That implies that it will be hard work, there will be sweat, and there very likely will be some pain and sacrifice involved. We must remember, that godliness is pursued and grown over an entire lifetime. The Christian life truly is a marathon, not a sprint.

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Personally, I have some great memories of being a long-distance runner when I was in school. I loved the feeling of being in good physical shape, and being able to run very long distances. And I also enjoyed the thrill of the competition of running against other athletes. As I said above, it did take a lot of work, dedication, and sacrifice to get to those competitions.

And even when we experience great pain or trials in life, we are called to keep pressing on. I still remember how that in grade 9, the night before the big competition, I sprained my ankle. The next day, I convinced my coach that if he put a tensor bandage tightly around my ankle I would still be able to run the race. And so I ran. And it hurt terribly. But I still came in third across the finish line. The next year, I won the inter-school competition of the 800 m run and was able to go all the way to the Calgary city finals.

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And so my friend, how are you doing in your Christian life today? Is there anything weighing you down in your spiritual life? Do you realize that other believers, God and all the heavenly angels, and perhaps even the “heroes of the faith” may be watching you and cheering you on to run this race.  May you have the strength and the courage to lay aside whatever it is that is keeping you from running this race well.