Thursday’s Column: Captain’s Blog
Each death marks a transition and passing of an era. The recent death of Doris Day certainly represents this well. The 97-year-old had a stipulation in her will that she not have a funeral, memorial service, or grave marker. She did not want a lot of time spent memorializing her death. She didn’t like death, and, as her manager and friend, Bob Bashara, told reporters, “She had difficulty accepting death” (Tyler McCarthy, FoxNews.com).
Most of us won’t refuse a burial plot and funeral service, but few of us enjoy imagining the process or moment of death in our lives. There is something sobering and precious to us about at least our own lives and mortality. We think it is unhealthy and unusual for someone to have little or no regard for their lives.
Sometimes, we struggle to accept the death of someone else. For how many years have people been in denial about Elvis Presley’s death, thinking him to be living in hiding somewhere. Though she would be dead of natural causes today, many, for years, chose to believe that Amelia Earhart did not die but rather landed on some deserted island or similar conspiracy. Don’t even get me started on Jimmy Hoffa. No compelling evidence was enough to convince ardent fans that these notorious people were actually dead.
Did you know that some people have tried to say that Jesus did not actually die, but only “swooned” on the cross? It’s even called the “Swoon Theory.” The Koran says that he feigned death (Surah IV: 157) and others say Jesus was drugged and only appeared dead (Geisler 347). But, as Geisler notes, there were experienced Roman soldiers there, there was significant blood loss from many wounds that bled for hours, there was an outpouring of blood and water when Jesus’ side was pierced, the governor, Pilate, inquired into the fact of His death before He turned over the body to Joseph of Arimathea, and much more sufficiently prove that Jesus actually died on the cross (ibid 347-348).
Each Sunday, we readily embrace the fact that Jesus died. In fact, we base our entire lives upon the truth of that death. We understand that it was necessary for Jesus to die, in our place and for our sins (Rom. 14:9; 2 Cor. 5:15; 1 Pet. 3:18). Though it breaks our heart that it was necessary for Jesus to die, we do not have difficulty accepting it. We’re counting on it! As you memorialize the Lord in the Supper today, be grateful for that substitutionary death. He was able to do for us what we could not do for ourselves (2 Cor. 5:21). Of course, what makes the difference in our eternity is that He did not stay dead. He arose (1 Cor. 15)! But, He wants us to embrace His death and let us change who we are and what we do.
How many household conversations begin, “Where is my?” Women leave purses in restaurants, men leave their wallets in the other pants pocket, and kids are apt to leave just about anything anywhere. How many vacations begin with the family wondering where some vital item is, fearing that it is sitting at home and not packed in the suitcases?
The disciples had just heard Jesus deliver some powerful lessons (Luke 8:10- 21) and now they were heading across the lake from Galilee to the country of the Gerasenes. En route, while Jesus slept, a fierce windstorm descends and rocks their little boat. In a panic, they awaken Jesus, pleading, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” (Luke 8:24). Jesus calms the storm and subsequently their fears, but He admonishes them, “Where is your faith?” (Luke 8:26).
That is a fair question. They had just heard the Master teacher doing His usual, masterful job (Luke 7:22-28, 31-36; etc.) and seen Him do some incredible miracles (Luke 7:1-10; 11-15; etc.). Between disembarking and the present distress, where did their faith go? The question Jesus asked His disciples is a fair question for each of us today. “Where is your faith?”
IS IT LOST (Luke 18:1ff)? Jesus positively teaches a parable about this in His story about the widow and the unjust judge. The woman was persistent and the judge, who feared neither God nor man, granted her petition due to her tenacious pursuit. Jesus makes application by asking, “When the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). It is possible for any one of us to lose our faith. The parable of the sower and the soils shows that people can lose their faith as a consequence of both good times and bad times (cf. Luke 8:11ff). It is equally tragic to see people lose their faith just a few steps into their spiritual journey, several miles down the road, or especially near the end of the road!
IS IT HIDDEN (Luke 8:16)? Jesus demonstrates how ludicrous a view hidden faith is from heaven’s vantage point by illustrating it this way: “No one, when he has lit a lamp, covers it with a vessel or puts it under a bed” (Luke 8:16a). His point is that light is not doing its job when it is covered, and our faith is not doing its job when it is covered. There will be many settings throughout life when being a Christian and standing up for the Lord will not be popular, admired, or congratulated. What will we do with our faith in such circumstances?
IS IT MISPLACED (Luke 18:9ff)? Everybody puts their trust in someone or some thing. The Bible says that people trust in their own power and might (Psalm 44:6), their wealth and riches (Psalm 49:6), their national leaders (Psalm 146:3), their own hearts (Proverbs 28:26), their idols (Isaiah 42:17), mankind (Jeremiah 17:5), their own achievements (Jeremiah 48:7), or their physical beauty (Ezekiel 16:15). Many of these attributes can serve us in properly placing our faith in God, but far too many are resting all they are or hope to be on those rather than God. In Luke 18:9, Jesus speaks a parable in warning against those who “trust in themselves.” Despite a culture that preaches the preeminent idea of “believing in yourself,” God makes that subservient to trusting in Him.
IS IT VISIBLE (Luke 7:9)? A centurion whose servant was dying was humble, devoted and perceptive in his approach to Jesus, pleading with Him to heal that dear one for him. Jesus marveled aloud, “I have not found such great faith, even in Israel!” The Centurion did not have to wear a badge or button that said, “I believe in the Lord.” People are watching us every day, our speech, decisions, attitudes, actions, and reactions. While it is nice when someone asks, “Are you a Christian?,” how much better for them not to have to ask?
So, “Where is your faith?”
In World War I, German intelligence was able to steal American plans at will. Tapping enemy lines was extremely easy, especially at night. Faced with such a dilemma, a regiment full of Choctaw Indians thought of a potential solution. The commander inquired into how many Choctaws knew their mother tongue. The men hesitated. The first English word some of them had learned was “soap.” In basic training, they were threatened with having their mouths washed out if caught speaking their native language. Now, their regimental leaders wanted them to speak it. The Choctaws were dispersed among the various divisions and attached to communications. From that point to the end of the war, all important orders were passed along in Choctaw. The Germans were stymied and finally caught off guard by the Americans’ war plans (from PBS’ American Experience: The Great War, Episode 3).
Today, our society does not want to hear us speak the message of Christ. Many find it offensive and restricting. They may even put great pressure on us to keep quiet. But, we cannot. These have been taken captive by the devil to do his will (2 Tim. 2:26). Especially when someone sees the spiritual crisis in his or her life, there will be a desperate desire for an answer. Where will they turn? If they have heard us speak of Christ and His way, they may need us to communicate the most important message ever spoken. Don’t keep quiet about Jesus, especially given the dire danger in this spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-5). God is counting on us to speak for Him, and so is a lost and dying world! Keep sharing Him.
What is perhaps the most difficult statement in the Bible is not grammatically complex or difficult to comprehend from an intellectual standpoint. But what elder, preacher, or other member has not agonized over it many times. Asked point blank for His teaching on the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage, Jesus says, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery” (Mat. 19:8-9). There are quite a few observations that can be made from this reading.
This passage must be taught patiently, lovingly, wisely, compassionately, and prayerfully! Yet, on what grounds can we decide not to teach it? Treating it with the reverence it deserves, why would we seek to dismantle or discredit it? Of course, we would not. By teaching it, we risk losing good will and favor with many but by teaching it as Jesus taught it we show respect and fidelity to His supreme authority. May God grant us “a spirit…of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7) on this eternally important passage.
The astute reader of the book of Mark finds the word 40 times in 39 verses (the Greek word most often translated “immediately” in Mark is actually found 44 times). It is a key word found consistently throughout the gospel but especially in the first six chapters. Usually, the word is used to quantify the time between Jesus performing a miracle and it taking effect. The point seems to be to show the power and Divine nature of Jesus. It is also a thread that runs throughout the book to highlight key thoughts and main ideas in this second book of the New Testament. The word is used to highlight the Father’s affirmation of Christ following His baptism (1:10), Jesus’ journey into the wilderness to triumph over the Devil’s temptations (1:12), the disciples’ decision to leave their occupation to follow Jesus (1:18,20), Jesus’ entering the synagogue to show unparalleled authority and power (1:21), the news and fame that followed Christ’s teaching and healing (1:28), and the immediate response of the one healed by Jesus–the first of many uses of the word “immediately” to highlight such (1:29-30). The proof for Jesus’ identity was immediate. The effect of Jesus’ miracles was immediate. The impact of Jesus’ miracles and teachings on friend and foe was immediate. Mark’s use of this word seems to indicate how overwhelming and unmistakable the proof of Jesus was.
This is not to say that one should rashly decide about the Lord. The book of Mark is part of God’s way to convince man about who Jesus is. Take the time to read it and learn of Him. Like the other three gospels, Mark contains the miracles, teaching, claims, and events in Christ’s life at the end of which one must ultimately make a decision concerning who He is. Remember, though, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Weigh the evidence, and then decide. Follow the example of so many in the book of Mark and let the power and person of Jesus have an immediate impact on your life and your soul.
Given his job, the Ethiopian of Acts 8 was one of that country’s most important people. Yet, he was more than important. He was very religious, apparently a proselyte (convert) to the Jewish faith. He didn’t restrict his religion to the assemblies. He read his Bible even when he was going about his secular tasks (Acts 8:28). Though he could not enter the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1), he made the long and grueling trip from northern Africa to Palestine and was returning home. Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament passage he was reading when Philip joined him in his chariot. Reading Acts 8:32-33, we recognize the place as Isaiah 53:7-8. The Eunuch was trying to find out about who Isaiah wrote about, “of himself or of some other man” (Acts 8:34). Philip preached Jesus to him and he became a Christian (Acts 8:35-39).
Those are essentially the facts. Yet, I wonder how coincidental it was that the Eunuch was reading from that part of Old Testament scripture. This African official likely had a scroll containing the entire prophecy of Isaiah, which was not divided into the individual chapters like they are today. It would seem that the context in which Isaiah 53 occurs would be of particular interest to this man. Flip forward a few chapters to Isaiah 56. Isaiah is telling foreigners and eunuchs not to look down on themselves (3-5).
This official of Candace was very likely not some hopeless non-Jew looking for a crumb from the Jews’ table. He had the great hope and promise of Scripture. Perhaps this portion of Isaiah was of particular motivation and inspiration to him. For Philip to explain that the time of that prophecy had now been fulfilled, that access to this promise was now available, certainly led the Eunuch to urgently respond and enthusiastically react. Jesus was the One referenced in Isaiah 53, but he (the Eunuch) was the one referenced in Isaiah 56. No, not just him, but all like him–one from the “all nations” of Isaiah 56:7 who could reap the benefits brought by the “Sin-bearing Servant” of Isaiah 53 and the one who would “sprinkle many nations” (52:15).
I hope that you read your Bible with the same hunger and expectation. Perhaps there are portions that bring you greater hope and expectation, that speak with greater poignancy to your life’s circumstances. The Bible is a book filled with wonderful, relevant promises. Trust them. Let them bear you along through the rough spots of life. God designed the Bible to be a book of hope and inspiration, but it cannot do us any good unless and until we consult it! Find yourself in the Bible!
I woke up just before 5 AM to an ominous notification from my Jerusalem Post app. Downstairs, turning on the news, the horrific truth was confirmed. The worst mass shooting in modern American history. Not long after, I was in my gym locker room. A gym buddy, Mike, a self-described C&E (i.e., “Christmas And Easter”) Catholic, greeted me. Usually, I am not tempted to ask this, but I found myself asking him, “How does something like this happen?” His 5-word, profound answer was, “No love, no Jesus, man.”
Some random thoughts occurred to me, in processing the events in Las Vegas late on Sunday night, October 1st.
Big questions emerge from this fog of suffering. Christians, we not only have the answer, but as God works through us, we are the answer! I read a social media post from Sheila Butt, challenging us to take Christianity off the pew and into our daily lives. The soul we reach and life we help change might change the course of the world for good (or the prevention of evil). Mike nailed it. “No love, no Jesus, man.” Amen!
Periodically, we read or hear of “sightings” that unbelievers have a field day with. I refer to “Jesus sightings,” people are claiming in such things as clouds, Cheetos, dental X-rays, cooking utensils, windows, walls, and trees. Wikipedia even has an entry for it (“Perceptions of religious imagery in natural phenomena”). People vehemently defend the idea that these are intentional, divinely sent images. Meanwhile, secular and agnostic witnesses to such claims gather up baby and bathwater together, using such superstitiousness to show how deluded those in Christendom really are. Yet, while responding to superstition in religion would be a fitting use of time, another thing comes to mind when hearing these sad stories. It is a reminder that people are looking for Jesus in all the wrong places.
They want some heavenly sign, some overwhelming feeling, some sensory sensation, and some sort of religious fireworks to create or validate their faith. While God has embedded plenty of these in the marvels of nature and creation, through the product of answered prayer that defies logic or explanation, and by the amazing process of transformation that occurs when people follow Christ, He calls on us to seek for Him in a much less electrifying and cataclysmic place.
When we pick up God’s Word and regularly, intently read, meditate, and study (cf. Psalm 1) it, we see Jesus come alive in powerful, sustaining ways! When we walk with the Lord each day, the resulting relationship built on His character and our trust in Him is powerful! When we actively serve Him and others and put into practice what He teaches us through the Bible, we see Jesus in a vivid way. Daily Christian living, the longer we practice it, brings Jesus into unmistakeable, clear focus. Maybe that is what these “seers” truly desire, and what they need is our help to truly find Him. Let us take that as a challenge and help people really “see Jesus” (cf. John 12:21; Heb. 2:9).
Since I was a boy, “A Wonderful Savior” has been one of my favorite hymns. A multitude of reasons are cited in this beautiful song, all of which builds my adoration for the Lamb of God! Let me suggest three reasons why I think Jesus is a wonderful Savior.
He has a wonderful nature. Jesus is Divine and eternal. He possesses all the traits of Deity without qualification or limitation (Col. 2:9). That means He has the power to save “to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25). Not only does He, as God, have the power, but He has the love (1 John 4:8). He has not only the power and the will, but also the desire.
He demonstrated wonderful love. Again, what could drive the perfect God to die for woeful, sinful, and wicked man? There was nothing in us deserving of love, so this says everything about Him and nothing about us. He loves me because HE is wonderful (Gal. 2:20; Eph. 5:25; cf. Rev. 3:9).
He has opened wonderful doors of opportunity. Paul loved using this terminology. He told Corinth in two letters about the Lord opening such doors for him (1 Cor. 16:9; 2 Cor. 2:12). He told the church at Colosse (4:3). He reported as much to the church at Antioch at the end of the first missionary journey (Acts 14:27). We cannot separate these opportunities from the Savior. Who do we seek to promote? What is our message? Who is the object of hope? He opens doors because of who He is. The Godhead, when we pray and seek His will, opens the doors through divine providence. How enriching and rewarding when we step through those wonderful doors!
Fanny J. Crosby had in mind the event up on Mt. Sinai when Moses received the ten commandments and the Lord descended in a cloud and stood with Moses there. It is a beautiful picture of a God who condescends to lowly man. That’s what Jesus did! He lowered Himself for us (Phil. 2:5ff). Thank God for such a Savior as we have!