Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Kathy and I visited the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, in February of 2006. It is an ornate, historic building. It dates to the 1100s, surviving the threats of many wars including World War I and World War II. But, it has been dilapidating for some time. Earlier today, a fire inside the spire caused it and one of its towers to collapse. Now, officials are saying that the whole frame is burning and will not survive. Whether or not they rebuild this Catholic Church building, this 900 year edifice will be gone.
There are buildings that have been around millennia before New Testament Days on most of the continents. If they continue until the Second Coming of Christ, they will cease to exist that day (2 Pet. 3:10). King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream over 500 years before Christ, and God helped Daniel understand its meaning (Dan. 2:28). The colossal figure he saw in that dream was a vision about the coming Kingdom of Christ. Daniel says, “In the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed, and that kingdom will not be left for another people; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever” (Dan. 2:44).
A careful study of unfolding history reveals this particular kingdom to be the church of our Lord, a Kingdom Jesus said would be established during the lifetime of some of His disciples (Mat. 16:28). It would come with power (Mark 9:1), a promise Jesus reiterates in Acts 1:8-11. That power came by way of the Holy Spirit’s coming upon the apostles on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Through this means, the Lord’s church was established in Jerusalem that day (Acts 2:37-47). The Roman Empire, which ruled the earth that day, eventually collapsed. No nation or empire can rival the spiritual Kingdom of Christ. His church will stand forever (Heb. 12:28). Nothing can overtake or overpower it (Mat. 16:18).
Assaults against the church have been ongoing for twenty centuries. At times, it has been invisible to recorded history, but it continues to stand. Her members have been assaulted many times throughout the centuries. Property has been destroyed. Possessions have been taken. Lives have been lost. But, still she stands! This Kingdom shall stand forever! A Divine promise encircles it. This confidence is fire proof!
We read it to our sons when they were growing up. We made up our own tune to the song, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” It’s been hard to remember those days in the rocking chair, reading it over and over to them, without getting tearful ever since they weren’t little boys. It turns out that many people can relate. The book’s author, Robert Munsch, reports that it has sold 15,000,000 copies (http://robertmunsch.com/book/love-you-forever). His publisher didn’t want to publish it because it didn’t seem like a traditional children’s book.
If just reading the title gets you choked up with personal memories, you may not want to read the true story behind the book. Munsch says that the song came first:
I made that up after my wife and I had two babies born dead. The song
was my song to my dead babies. For a long time I had it in my head and
I couldn’t even sing it because every time I tried to sing it I cried. It was
very strange having a song in my head that I couldn’t sing (ibid.).
He later built a story around the song, and the rest is history for millions of parents and their children. I imagine Gary, Dale, and Carl would tell you this is their favorite book from childhood. It’s certainly ours.
Isn’t it interesting that such a beautiful, intense love story surrounds something heartbreaking and tragic. Out of pain and sorrow, this incredible, enduring legacy was created. Knowing the backstory only intensifies the power of the words in the book.
Have you ever looked at the story of the cross in that light? Scripture teaches us from beginning to end that God loves us, His children. He cares for us, protects us, and wants us to live with Him forever.
But there is a backstory. In fact, it goes back to eternity. There, the Godhead made a plan to make sure we could live with Him forever. But it would require His Son dying for us in order to make it happen. Discovering that may bring tears to our eyes, but it also melts our hearts. What love! It’s a forever love, one that can make us the best we could ever be.
Here is God’s message throughout Scripture: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness” (Jer. 31:3). In other words, “I’ve loved you forever and I’ll love you forever.”
Most of us, repeatedly throughout our lives, get asked or ask ourselves the question, “What’s your passion?” The word, defined as “a strong and barely containable emotion,” is one we may use for ourselves but one as likely to be used by others to describe us. Thanks to social media, we can see people’s interests, hobbies, and diversions whenever we choose. They post pictures, make comments, and talk about them with great frequency. However, there are some people whose focus is so intent on some topic that their emotion spills over. If anyone else brings it up, they cannot refrain from jumping in “with both dogs.” Yet, they themselves are always finding and sharing relevant material that supports or upholds their views. Maybe it’s guns (for or against), race (black, white, or hispanic), politics (R or D), illegal immigration (for or against), or some equally charged issue. Have you ever noticed someone whose passion seems to be for being argumentative and disagreeable? Passion is unmistakeable.
Not only through social media, but through my every social interaction, my life is declaring what my passion is. Those closest to me are best equipped to reveal what that is, but everyone who is exposed to me for any period of time can figure it out. What a sobering thought! I know what I would want that to be. Paul said, “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). In Philippians 3:10, he simply says, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings…” We have the corpus of Paul’s inspired writings, and it is filled with his expressing that passion. We have eyewitnesses to his ministry, especially Luke, who verify that this is what drove him and ignited his passion.
A lot of people know that I enjoy dark roast coffee, all things Georgia Bulldogs, running, peanut butter, traveling, and my family, but do they see passion for Christ in my life? I don’t get to say what my passion is, simply by thinking about what it should be in some moment of reflection. It is what my life shows that it is. When all is said and done, what will have been the great passion of my life? What about you?
I was connecting in Dallas for my flight back to Denver and had just come down the escalator from the SkyLink. Around the corner from me, I heard an agonizing cry. At first, I didn’t recognize it for what it was. Then, I heard it again. And again. It was chilling. Walking just a few steps, I saw the source. A very large man was laying face down in the middle of the concourse. He was immobile. Several people were gathering around him, but no one seemed to know what to do. Most had no idea what had happened to him. I feared it was a heart attack and wondered if this was going to be a fatal event. EMTs soon arrived with a gurney to administer aid to this traveler. While I have no idea how this will turn out, what struck me was the looks on everyone’s faces. He was trying to maintain his dignity, but people everywhere around this scene were visibly distraught and felt for this man. They looked fearful or at least concerned. Things like this do not happen every day, to say the least.
Seeing this unforgettable scene made me appreciate the sober picture God has painted for us in His Word about those who are separated from Him. Galatians 5:4 terms it “fallen from grace.” Hebrews 6:6 speaks of some who have “fallen away.” Revelation 2:5 reveals that the Ephesus church had “fallen.” Jesus speaks of some who “fall away” (Luke 8:13). Romans 11:11 speaks of one stumbling so as to fall. The rich can fall (1 Tim. 6:9), but so can any child of God (Heb. 4:11; 2 Pet. 3:17). Repeatedly, this imagery is used of those who enter spiritual peril. It’s a dangerous position!
How often do I look at the people I encounter every day, who may seem physically fit and strong, but whose sins are not covered by Christ’s blood? Do I realize how dire their situation is? Too often, I’m afraid I don’t. As I looked at this poor, fallen man in Dallas, I thought about his soul. But in those moments, I did not think as soberly about the souls of the concerned onlookers. Statistically speaking (cf. Mat. 7:13-14), nearly all of them had to be traveling the broad rather than the narrow way. Would you help me to see the souls of men in this way, to feel a concern and sense of urgency for them? I know the Great Physician and know that He can help every case! May God grant us the courage to step through the open doors that may spell the eternal difference between life and death!
Someone wants to be involved in an illicit relationship, defend an unscriptural marriage (or enter into one), engage in some vice or sinful behavior “in moderation” (or otherwise), and they talk to someone who shows them from scripture why it should not be done. Perhaps they ask several people and get the same discouragement. Sometimes, the inquirer is wise enough to let that guide them away from wrongdoing. Other times, they persist in looking for someone to tell them what they want to hear. Without exception, such a searcher will eventually—and probably sooner than later—find someone to validate and endorse their desire.
Solomon wrote, “The thoughts of the righteous are just, But the counsels of the wicked are deceitful” (Prov. 12:5). His father kicked off the songbook of Israel by saying, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…” (Psa. 1:1a). Job speaks of how he shunned “the counsel of the wicked” (Job 21:16; 22:18). Wicked Ahaziah was rejected by God, in part, “for his mother was his counselor to do wickedly” (2 Chr. 22:3). This characteristic of human nature, whether giving or taking wicked counsel, is timeless. But, seeking counsel from the proper sources is encouraged by Scripture (Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:6). How can we make sure that we are hearing what we need to hear, not just what we want to hear?
Beware! At times, what we want to hear is right and good. Many times, it is not. As we lean on others, let us lean most heavily on “the rock” (Mat. 7:24)!
Very little good can be said of Gregory Rasputin. Robert Goldston, in The Russian Revolution, writes that he “was, like his father before him, essentially a rowdy peasant. He soon developed a reputation in his hometown as a horse thief, drunkard, seducer of young girls, and general good for nothing. He had no education and remained largely illiterate all his life. His one apparent attribute was great physical strength. He was a coarse-featured man with a heavy black beard and strangely piercing eye” (82). Because times in Russia circa 1905 were desperate and grim, a rascal like Rasputin could rise. He went to Saint Petersburg, weaseled his way up the ranks of nobility, and eventually rose to become the most intimate advisor of Czar Nicolas II and especially the superstitious Czarina Alix. Many historians believe that, in the fateful, final years of the Romanov dynasty, Rasputin was the unofficial, yet undisputed, ruler of Russia.
He was grossly immoral and unscrupulous. At his words, jobs and even lives were spared or taken. Though he had abandoned his wife and children, Rasputin made his way as a self-professed prophet and “holy beggar.” The Czarina, in all her correspondence, simply called Rasputin “the Friend.” The royal family implicitly trusted Rasputin. Rasputin, in turn, urged the royal family to rule by absolute despotism. Many thought Rasputin to possess powers of hypnotism and the ability to do magic. Giving him the control of hundreds of millions of peoples’ lives, the Czar contributed to his own murder and that of the entire royal family in the revolution of 1917. For Rasputin’s part, he was murdered in 1914 by a small group of conspiring nobles who lured him to one of their houses and shot him repeatedly after poisoned food and wine did not do the trick.
The most amazing part of this story involves the irony of it all. A ne’er-do-well essentially becomes head of the largest country in the world. A grossly immoral man is viewed as a “holy man.” The head of a dynasty that had lasted hundreds of years put all its trust and hope in such a one. What incredible folly!
However, the majority of humanity has done the same thing from time immemorial. The prince of darkness, the king of ne’er-do-well, is their spiritual advisor. As foolish as it is, people stake their eternal destiny on his wholly corrupt guidance. They risk it all, mesmerized by his wiles. Consequently, they are duped into calling “evil good and good evil…who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Isa. 5:20-21). Yet, it is not a revolution but The Judgment that will undo them. They stand to lose more than physical life; they will lose their souls (Mat. 10:28). Beware of the pied piper of souls! Be careful who you make your spiritual counselor. It matters!
It’s so easy to lose sight of our purpose. Even as Christians, our identity can become the things that are associated with this earth and this life. We can move along the road of life, unmindful of why we’re hear and what we’re to be doing with our time. Since at least my college days, I have asked God, “Help me make the most of my opportunities to Your glory.” He has opened doors I did not even know existed. These have not happened because of who I am, but all of it has happened because of who He is. That doesn’t mean that any of us can sit back passively until God makes things happen, but it is an exciting thing to try and order your life in such a way that He can use you for His purposes in the brief time we have on this earth.
The longer we live, the more we see our utter dependency upon Him and understand that “it is God who causes growth” (Col. 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:6-7). The Bible is His Word revealing His will, and we serve at His pleasure for His glory (Phil. 2:13). We can never forget that as long as we live in this life. None of us is indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet, for the brief period of time we’re here, we are a tool in God’s hand (cf. Rom. 6:12-13). We should work hard and prepare ourselves for service, but it’s exciting to watch God open doors and make things happen!
Life has its difficult moments, dark days, trials, temptations, and disappointments. But no life can compare to the Christian life. With all the temptation to be distracted by issues that will ultimately not matter to the dead and those in eternity, let us reflect daily on why God has us here.
If you would make for self a name, to seek for glory or for fame,
At life’s quick end, you’ll know the shame of serving self, not God.
If you make pleasing men your aim, and fawn and fumble for their acclaim,
When life is done, an empty same, of serving self, not God.
But if for Him you will proclaim, and let His glory be your flame,
At life’s great end He will exclaim, “Come home, O servant of God!”
Today marks 16 years since the most infamous and iconic attack rocked our collective consciousness. Each year, there is a solemn ceremony conceived in such wisdom and executed with a poignancy that never abates. That is the reading of the names of those who died in the 911 Attacks in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. The soft music playing behind the readers accents the mood, punctuated by every reader mentioning the name of a family member they lost that fateful day. September 11th resonates with us so deeply because it was an attack on our country, but also because of the death of each and every individual who perished that day. Behind each name are family members, memories, joy and sorrow. Each person, in such a dramatic, untimely way, was taken from time into eternity. God loved and loves each one with an infinite, eternal love and wanted each one to be saved. Christ gave His life to provide salvation for each one. The Bible was written for the benefit of each one. The Lord’s church was meant to pursue and teach each one.
Though each individual is numbered among such a large group, around 3,000 of them, each one means more than the whole world (Mat. 16:26). This touching memorial is a tribute to the overall value of human life. It reminds us that we are surrounded by individuals all possessing an eternal soul. Everyone you see today is heading toward eternity. Each one will either hear “well done” or “depart from me” (cf. Mat. 25:31ff). What is said about God’s attitude toward those victims specially remembered today is true of every person we meet and see today.
May we have our hearts stirred by the sobriety of that truth. May we never lose sight of our urgent responsibility to share the message of Christ with the people in our lives. As moving as the ceremony that occurs each year in New York City on September 11th, we really cannot imagine what the Day of Judgment will be like. Each person who ever lived, including you and me, will hear our name called (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10). As important as our own name is, every name is important. Let us pray that this realization will propel us to tell the best news of human history and help someone find the only way, truth, and life.