Friday, December 23, 2011

The Sacrificial Lamb

Many Biblical scholars are in agreement that the town of Bethlehem was the home of the lambs that were used for the sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem. Bethlehem was fairly close to the capital city and we know that fields surrounding it had been used for sheep-grazing since the time of King David. What is interesting is that many of the stables in the town were birthing stables. The concept that Jesus was very possibly born in a birthing stable is beyond coincidence.

These lambs were set aside as special. They had to meet certain criteria, such as no blemishes and only male lambs were considered. This type of lamb was used as a Passover lamb, Exod. 12:5. The blood of this lamb was placed on the lintel and doorposts of the homes of the Israelites just over 3,500 years ago. When God slew the firstborn in the land of Egypt, He passed over the houses with the blood - a perfect picture of what Jesus did on the cross - the Lamb of God.

The Father no doubt sent Jesus to one of these birthing stables to be born. This is a beautiful picture of what His life was really about. Just like those lambs that were born to be sacrifices, Jesus was likewise born as the perfect and final sacrifice.

'For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.' Luke 2:11

Sunday, June 19, 2011

My Heritage

Although my Christian heritage is rich, I understand that many others may not have been blessed with Christian parents. It certainly isn't your fault if that is the case. After all, we don't choose our parents, just like we don't choose our children. But as parents we can make better choices for our children to grow up with the right influences. In a spiritual sense I am rich because my children have risen up and blessed me. Allow me to brag a little; I trust I will be able to bring it all home:

My great-grandfather came from Sweden to Minnesota, where he was saved. His youngest of seven kids didn't find salvation until in his 30's, I believe. And he raised my father in a similar way. But while in the US Navy during WWII, my dad also repented of his sins. He didn't want his kids waiting until adulthood to get saved, and chance losing them forever. He prayed and disciplined us (please understand that doesn't only mean corporal punishment, discipline comes from the same root that disciple comes from.) So we have become disciples of Jesus, or Christ-followers, because the mercy of God, and the loving diligence of a godly father. I am not purposely slighting the influence of mothers and grandmothers, but this is a Father's Day tribute, after all.

Although I have had an easier path than others because of those who went before me, it is incumbent upon us all as fathers and mothers to raise up a godly generation to come after us, to never give up when it seems as if our kids will never amount to anything, and to pray long and consistently for our kids' salvation as if it depends on us even though our theology teaches us that it all depends on God.

I have spoken to some men who told me I am in a small select group, because they believe most fathers are as theirs were, men who had either physically or emotionally abused them, and now they have trouble getting around the past and fathering their children in the way of the Lord. Since I have never been there, I have difficulty empathizing, but one thing is certain: you must break the generational cycle. If you don't, there is a much greater chance that you will allow it to continue. You know what the possible consequences are, so don't let it happen!

One final point, and that is that God is our Father. He is not a woman, as the author of The Shack would have us believe. He is the most loving, caring Dad one could ever know. If we need pointers on being a better dad, we couldn't find a more perfect example. I want to let everyone know that I believe I had a great dad, but I know that I also have the greatest Dad possible, my heavenly Father. I love you, Dad!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Humanity of Jesus

One has to be careful when discussing this subject. We cannot get so caught up in the fact that Jesus was a human, that we fail to remember that Jesus was the Messiah- the Anointed Son of God, and equal to God the Father. But He also was and is human. His birth and earthly life was quite a humbling experience as we read in Phil. 2:5-8.

I want to look at one incident which shows us so clearly His humanity and is also a part of Him that we should try to pattern ourselves after. Don't forget that Jesus is not only our blessed Redeemer, but also should be an example for us so that we may accurately walk in His steps, as Peter mentions in his first epistle (2:21).
The incident I am referring to is the shortest verse in the Bible, John 11:35,'Jesus wept.' It is just a simple statement of fact and for so many years I would read that, and heard many sermons preached about it, but until recently, it never hit home to me personally. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire John to pen these two words? What was so special about the fact that Jesus wept?

This is during the miracle when Jesus delays His coming to heal His sick friend Lazarus, who dies because of the delay. When Jesus comes to Bethany, He is met by Martha, Lazarus' sister, and later by Mary. As they journey to the gravesite, Jesus weeps. He knew he was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, so why would He cry over His dead friend? Until I lost my father to cancer a couple years ago, it puzzled me. So why do we weep when loved ones we know are no longer suffering, but are in Heaven? I was rejoicing over the fact that my father, who served His Savior for 60 years, was now in His presence and receiving his reward and commendation. But I also wept. Why? Because I am human, and as humans we grieve when someone we love deeply dies. And that is why Jesus wept. He really loved His friend, Lazarus, loved him more than we ever could. Yes, He knew that very soon His friend would stumble from the grave alive and well. But for now Lazarus was dead and Jesus cried with Mary and Martha.

What a wonderful picture of a loving man and merciful God! This is so comforting. To think that Jesus, the Creator of the world not only knows our cares and grief, but also can and does grieve with us. A couple weeks ago a young Christian client lost his wife and 15 month-old son in a car accident. He is only 26 years old and has been married for only three years. What a tragic loss, to go to work on a bright Tuesday morning and come home to an empty house. What had he done to deserve such a blow? I spoke with Clint's boss, who reminded me that Job didn't know why God allowed him to suffer like he did. We may not understand why God allows things to happen - but we must trust that God does not inflict pain frivolously, and because He loves us, let us also remember that Jesus not only is grieving with Clint, but on his spiritual journey, this is one of those times that Jesus is not walking with him, but in His strong, loving arms, Jesus is carrying a grieving, sorrowful man, who has lost so much.

Yes, it is good to rejoice with those who rejoice. But as we weep with those who weep, may we remember our Savior weeps as well. When we go through the valleys of life, Jesus is there, caring for us more deeply than we can imagine. Although we may not understand why bad things happen to good people, we can trust that God knows, and He is good, all the time.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Real Christians

I finished reading a Christian classic that I would recommend to others. Foxe's Book of Martyrs has been one of the two most cherished books, apart from the Bible, among English-speaking people for 400 years. The other is Pilgrim's Progress. In some ways, it is not easy reading since it was written a generation before Shakespeare wrote his plays. But it is worth reading. And it is not as morbid as some would think.

When I read the accounts of real men and women who fearlessly and even joyfully gave their lives for their Savior with the full assurance that they would wake on the other side of death in the presence of Jesus, it helped me realize that this world holds nothing for me. My hope is in the risen Lamb. Death should not be something we embrace, but it should not be something we shrink from with horror. There are some things that are worse than death. According to these heroes, one thing that they would never do is to renounce their King. They were true to Him, even to death.

The book starts out giving the legends of the deaths of the first and second century martyrs. Then it chronicles the persecution by the Catholic Church of the Reformers starting with John Wickliff, who was known as the Morning Star of the Reformation. From there the book goes to what was happening during John Foxe's lifetime - fellow Englishmen and women who were sentenced to death for refusing to submit to the idolatry of the Catholic Church during the reign of the queen known as Bloody Mary.

When reading about these extraordinary people who faced the stake so fearlessly, continuing to pray and exhort the crowd gathered as the fire would start burning their flesh, I wondered how they were able to take it. There is one excerpt that shows the amazing presence of Jesus, when He said He would be with us to the end of the age:

"Thomas Hauker, being bound to the stake, the fire was set upon him. In the which when he continued long, and when his speech was taken away by the violence of the flame, his skin also drawn together, and his fingers consumed by the fire, so that now all men had thought certainly he had gone, suddenly and contrary to all expectation, the blessed servant of God reached up his hands burning on a light fire, which was marvellous to behold, over his head to the living God, and with great rejoicing, as it seemed, struck or clapped them three times together. Which thing he promised certain of his friends to do; and so, secretly between them, it was agreed, that if the rage of the pain were tolerable and might be suffered, then he should lift his hands above his head toward heaven, before he gave up the ghost."

Although God doesn't promise a life free from persecution and martyrdom, He does promise His presence and protection, even through death. Many of our brothers and sisters are now suffering persecution, especially in North Korea and Muslim countries. We should hold up these dear Christians before the throne of grace. And as I mentioned in an earlier post, we in America are not exempt from the possibility of real persecution. We can take heart that there are those who have gone before. They have paved the way. They have shown us there is nothing to fear in death. It is momentary, and then....the smile of Jesus as He welcomes us to our new home.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A New Year's Resolution

Although many people make resolutions at the beginning of a New Year, most don't stick with them very long. There is nothing wrong with making these resolutions, actually some are very good. An employee decided she would quit smoking starting January 1. When I asked her why she wouldn't quit in December, she said she wasn't ready. I'm not sure, but I think her resolution has already fallen by the wayside.

Good intentions are nice, but won't go very far unless backed up by a real desire. It also helps if you are seeking the assistance of a higher power. I have made a New Year's resolution. I am pretty sure I will fail from time to time, but I want to see my life changed by the principle Jesus lays out in Matthew 5:38-48. As many of you will recognize, this is part of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is zeroing in on our selfishness. He says turn you cheek, give the shirt off your back, go the extra mile, and love your enemies. This, I believe was the revolutionary way of living that was a large part of turning the Roman world upside down and made Christianity such a major 'religion' within 100 years after the resurrection of Jesus. Religion is in quotes because it is after all, not a religion, but a way of life and a relationship with our loving Creator.

There are two reasons why I am making the resolution. First, because I want others to see God reflected in me, something that can be accomplished through following the steps laid out in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus makes an incredible statement in verse 48: 'Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.' I'm not going to disagree with the scholars who say perfect doesn't really mean perfect, it really means mature. But what I am saying is that if we follow the guidelines laid down by Jesus, we are going to be what the Bible describes as perfect. I think that is a good reason. If you are in a position where God is pleased with you, you are in a good position. And you will reflect the Lord God to a world that desperately needs a glimpse of Him.

The second reason I am making this resolution is what it will do for me. I know Jesus didn't make the statements in His Sermon just to see how difficult He could make things for His disciples, but because He knew that these principles He was laying out were to help us to live out His purpose. As humans we all have been made in the image of God. He knows us, and what is best for us. He also knows moral perfection, and how we can be morally perfect. Because Jesus knows what is best for me, why wouldn't I want to be obedient to what He says?

But there are many precepts laid out in the Bible that we as selfish humans reject as unacceptable. Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived, but when he says, 'If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.' (Prov. 25:21-22), my first reaction is to roll my eyes and mutter 'Yeah, right!' There have been people who have treated me and my family pretty bad and I really don't want to help them. But if I believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then I am expected to treat this passage, not only with respect, but with complete obedience, even if it hurts.

Okay, it sure is good that Jesus gives us only four rules as listed above. Well, maybe He just gave four examples, and that actually there is a principle that He is teaching. This is where it gets really tough. I have to entirely change my way of thinking, which is why I am sure I will fail from time to time. But I am convinced that Jesus is teaching this principle: I am to place the interests of others before my interests. It is easy to say, but it is radical thinking and can only be accomplished through total dependence and faith in Jesus.

I want to be a Christ-follower. I want to live by His precepts, not to win His favor, but because I love Him. I will trust Him and pray that He will change my thinking. This is my resolution for 2011. What's yours?