Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From Death to Life


A story by Sydney Lupkin of ABC News from two months ago -- When 17-year-old Lawrence Yahle learned his father was dead earlier this month at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio, he ran down the hall to see nurses around his father's body. They weren't trying to revive him anymore. Distraught, Lawrence pointed and shouted, "Dad, you're not going to die today." Moments later, Anthony Yahle's heart monitor showed signs of life, Dr. Raja Nazir, his cardiologist at Kettering Medical Center, told It wasn't a regular heartbeat, but once or twice a minute, the monitor would pick up tiny electrical movements. "When I looked at the electrical activity, I was surprised," Nazir said. "I thought we'd better make another effort to revive him." Nazir gave one of Yahle's hanging medicine bags a squeeze to restore his blood pressure and the team began working on him again. "Very slowly, the heart rate was picking up," Nazir said. That was more than a week ago, on Aug. 5. Doctors thought Yahle, a 37-year-old diesel mechanic, would need a heart transplant or be in a vegetative state the rest of his life, but he's home resting and seems fine. "I'm calling it a miracle because I've never seen anything like it," Nazir said. Yahle's near-death experience started at 4 a.m. that day, when his wife, Melissa Yahle, woke up and realized his breathing didn't sound right. Melissa, who has been a nurse for seven years, said she tried unsuccessfully to wake him up. Melissa and Lawrence performed CPR until an ambulance could arrive, and first responders found a heartbeat after shocking Yahle several times. At the hospital, doctors expected Yahle's arteries to be clogged, but they were clear. Things were looking positive until later that afternoon, when Yahle's heart stopped. He "coded" for 45 minutes as doctors tried to revive him. "We looked at each other," Nazir said. "We'd given him all the medicine we had in our code cart. At some point, you have to call it off." Nazir said he wasn't sure exactly how long Yahle was "dead," before Lawrence ran down the hall to tell his father he couldn't die that day. "Suddenly that trickle of a thing came back," Nazir said. "We were lucky we saw and reacted to it, and that brought him back." Nazir said it was "mind boggling." Melissa said she, Lawrence and the people from their church who were praying with them witnessed a miracle. Yahle was transferred to Ohio State University, and he returned home to West Carrollton on Aug. 10 with a defibrillator in his chest. He doesn't remember any of the experience after he went to bed on Aug. 4. "He doesn't have one broken rib," Melissa said. "He's not sore. These are things that just clinically don't happen." Yeah…except they do. This is what happens with God. He has a way of doing miracles…in His way and at His discretion, of course. This seems to be a pretty prominent theme in the Bible.  Here, we have the story of a young person who dies and comes back to life by the power of God.

This is the first recorded instance in the Word of God of a person being raised from the dead (1 Kings 17:17-24). It is evident that the young man in the story is dead, as it not only indicates that he stopped breathing, but that his spirit has left his body (vv.21-22). His mother is grieving, as well. It is interesting to note that the mother’s response is to feel guilty because of past sins. She believes that her son’s death is God’s way of punishing her for misdeeds. It is not uncommon for people to feel guilt in connection with bereavement, but is curious that she points her finger at her guest. She recognizes Elijah as a man of God. Perhaps, she believes that his presence should have protected her and her son, and should have prevented her son’s death.

Elijah’s response is to carry the boy to the upstairs room and to cry out to the Lord for the life of the child. He can’t believe that the Lord would miraculously provide food for the three of them and then allow the son to die. There has to be something else at work. Elijah doesn’t stretch himself out on the boy’s dead body in hope that he could somehow transfer his life to the lad, because he knows that only God can impart life. It is after Elijah stretches himself out on the boy for the third time that he comes back to life. Is this a coincidence…given that our Lord arose on the third day after His death? I would say -- probably not. There seems to be a looking ahead or foreshadowing to Jesus’ experience in most, if not all, of “the raising from the dead” stories. In a similar manner, Paul raises the boy Eutychus in Acts 20, as it says, “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. ‘Don't be alarmed,’ he said. ‘He's alive!’” (v.20)

The result of the miracle is the woman’s confession of her faith in the God of Israel. She now understands that Elijah is a true servant of God, and not just some religious teacher looking for support. This is all interesting since God has already provided food for the widow through Elijah, as we go back to the previous message. So, the God of the universe is not only able to sustain life, He also grants life. Like the man with the five talents, Elijah has proven himself to be faithful…all while in enemy territory. During these three years on the run, Elijah has learned a great deal about the Lord, about himself and about the needs of people…which is good, because he is about to face his greatest challenge.

One final thought…Jesus uses this story Himself (Luke 4:25-26) to emphasize the grace of God on people. This is an important message, not only in the New Covenant, but in the Old, as well.

One might ask -- what is the purpose in the raising of one from death to life? We will consider this thought in Paul’s relationship to Jesus. What can we see from Paul’s life in regards to the impact of the resurrected Christ? One commentator notes: “The truth and power of the resurrected Christ brought three great changes in Paul. First, was a deep recognition of sin. For the first time he realized how far his external religious life was from being internally godly. He saw himself as he really was…an enemy of God and a persecutor of His church. Second, he experienced a revolution of character. From a persecutor of the church he became her greatest defender. His life was transformed from one characterized by self–righteous hatred to one characterized by self–giving love. He changed from oppressor to servant, from imprisoner to deliverer, from judge to friend, from a taker of life to a giver of life. Third, he experienced a dramatic redirection of energy. As zealously as he had once opposed God’s redeemed he now served them”. (MacArthur, J. F. (1984). First Corinthians. MacArthur New Testament commentary (395). Chicago: Moody Press.)

And what does this story mean for us? Once again, we see the providence of God at work. The God who protects Elijah for three years, who protects the widow and her son, can also protect us. Not only this, I believe that the story is not only a foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection, but it is also a foreshadowing of ours. It we believe that Jesus is raised from the dead and that He is coming again for us to take us home to be with Him…then, as we have studies in 1 Thessalonians 4, etc., we will likewise be raised from the dead! The miracle that takes place for Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, also takes place for all who have trusted in Him for salvation, just as Martha indicates to Jesus, "I know he (Lazarus) will rise again in the resurrection at the last day." Jesus said to her, "I am the Resurrection and the Life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies…” (John 11:24-25, NIV) This is our hope!

Blessings, Don

Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Comet, A Planet and a Star


I love this recent photo courtesy of APOD and Pete Lawrence (Digital-Atronomy)...(and I am happy that the site is back up, as it is ;-). The photo features...from top to bottom...the comet ISON, the planet Mars and the bright star Regulus in the constellation Leo. ISON should become brighter over the next few months.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Living Outside the Box, Pt. 2


I posted something on Facebook the other day that the Lord put on my heart. We live in a culture where many things come easy. As it relates to closeness with God, this is not necessarily the requires desire, humility and diligence. He wants us to be close to Him...and we certainly need it. (James 4:8a) I believe many people assume, and even expect, that faith should come easy, but that is just not the case. And when they find themselves struggling to believe, they do not understand it. As the old saying goes, when there is distance between you and God, He hasn’t gone anywhere. It is you and I who create the gap through our lack of faith, or even worse, living worldly. So, as we come back to consider what is taking place in the life of a fascinating individual…who by all rights and understandings, should not have faith in God…we are inspired to live more faithfully for the Lord

The Roman centurion is a person of great faith who is not afraid to cross racial and social barriers (Luke 7:1-10). He displays a deep love and affection for a servant who is ill to the point of death, and He seeks out a Jewish religious leader for answers. He also desires to immerse himself in the work of God, even making a significant contribution to the building of a Jewish synagogue. Here is a gentile soldier that is concerned about Jewish worship, which is remarkable. As we continue to examine the characteristics that reveal this centurion to be a person of amazing faith, we see that this man approaches Christ with great humility (vv. 6-7a). These verses reveal two essential components of the Christian faith – an understanding of whom Christ is (Savior) and an understanding of who we are (helpless sinners).

In verse six we find this, “Then Jesus went with them. And when He was already not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to Him, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy that You should enter under my roof. (7) Therefore I did not even think myself worthy to come to you.” Before Jesus could reach his house, the Centurion sends a second representative to Jesus, telling him that it is not necessary for Him to come to his house. Because he was familiar with Jewish religious customs, the centurion did not wish to put Jesus in a position of having to enter the house of a Gentile. This Roman soldier, a man of considerable influence and power, is uniquely humble, regarding himself as undeserving of having Jesus come under his roof. He even felt unworthy of meeting Jesus in the street. This soldier, unlike the Pharisees, does not ask Jesus for a sign that he is who he says he is. This man doesn’t even ask to meet him.

Finally, we see this Roman trust, as the song says, “in Christ alone.” (vv. 7a-8) “… But say the word, and my servant will be healed. (8) For I also am a man placed under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” The centurion apparently realizes that Jesus has the power of life and death…that He could heal with a word, and therefore, must be God. And if Christ is divine, then he…a Gentile sinner…is unworthy even to meet him. Respectfully, he kneels before his divine authority. All Jesus has to do is say the word, and the centurion believes that it is as good as done. There is no evidence that this man has ever personally heard Jesus preach and yet he believes! He makes his request based on what he has heard concerning Jesus. And Jesus promises a special blessing on people like this centurion. When Jesus appears to Thomas and removes all of his doubts, proving that he has risen from the dead, he says to Thomas, “Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” (John 20:29). This blessing extends to the centurion and to every believer today. In the word “also” in verse eight, the centurion sees a parallel between the way he commands his soldiers and the way Jesus commands diseases. If this man, with very little spiritual instruction, has this kind of faith in God’s Word, how much greater should our faith be?
In verse nine we see Jesus’ reaction, “He marvels at him, and turns around and says to the crowd that follows Him, “I say to you, I have not found such great faith, even in Israel!” This man’s remarks amaze Jesus…that they have come from a Gentile. He marvels at a Roman centurion, whose background and circumstances ought to have made it difficult for him to have faith. Here is a man whose occupation is one where he has to be “the tough guy”…a man who should be steeped in the paganism of the day…a man hated by the Jews because he is a Roman. Yet in spite of all the circumstances that go against him, he is a striking example of faith. And almost as an afterthought, Luke adds verse 10…and oh by the way, “When those who were sent, returning to the house, found the servant well who had been sick.” Faith that is genuine is fulfilled in and by Christ Jesus.

Pat Summerall has to be my favorite broadcaster of all time. He passed away this past spring at the age of 82. Pat spent 50 years with the National Football League. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in 1952 and played with the Chicago Cardinals and New York Giants until 1961. After his retirement from the game, he joined CBS as a broadcaster and in 1993 switched to Fox. During his CBS years he and a fellow broadcaster partied hard off the field. "We raised Cain” he says, “I was the first guy at the bar and the last to leave." His love of alcohol was well-documented. Summerall was told that if he kept on drinking he was going to die. After checking himself into the Betty Ford Clinic, his counselor urged him to seek a better life through faith. At age 66, Pat Summerall was baptized. In USA Today he told a reporter that when the minister "leaned me back in the water, I never felt so helpless." Summerall testified, "I knew I just became a Christian. I can’t tell you how great life has been since then." Summerall spent much of the past sixteen years of his life living outside of what had been his box. He spent his time telling people about his story, and how he left the world behind to become a Christian -- what a testimony!

Pat Summerall recognized that his life was not going to make sense and he was going to be enslaved to addiction unless he received some help. When we come back to the story of the centurion, he realizes that he needs help. What startles and impresses Jesus are the positive characteristics that are displayed in the life of the centurion. These characteristics can be displayed in the life of anyone who is willing to trust in Him. We do not have to settle for a mediocre faith. We do not have to hang out on the fringes of Christian society and the body of Christ. We can and should be “all in.” Jesus really does not expect anything less than this for us. He must be Lord of our lives, and not just some part time Christ. We need to prioritize and continue to prioritize our lives in a way that we are living as citizens of heaven on earth, first! This is our continual challenge.

Blessings, Don

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bread from Heaven


It is getting to be that time of year again…when soup tastes especially good. There is just something about soup and cooler weather. Whenever I have soup…there must always be “bread”. I don’t know what it is, but bread just goes well with soup. I don’t necessarily mind a slice of Wonder Bread, but, soup is so much better with one of Kim’s rolls. Under most circumstances, bread would be the secondary portion of the meal…but, not when it comes to Kim’s rolls (and many of you know what I am talking about). Soup becomes that which enhances the roll.

I think about this in relationship to John’s reference to Jesus as the Bread of Life (John 6:26ff). As that Bread, Jesus takes second place to nothing. We don’t take Jesus as any secondary portion, but everything else in our lives should enhance or glorify Him. Bread becomes a symbol for Jesus and His ministry. By grace, our Lord feeds some people who are hungry, but, in truth, He gives them the Word of God. The problem is that they want the food, but they are not necessarily interested in the truth. For certain, some would stay through the storm in order to seek Him, but Jesus…knowing their hearts…is not particularly impressed. In the end, most of these people would abandon Him. Jesus points out that there are two kinds of food – one is for the body, which is necessary, but not the most important…and two, food for the inner man or spirit, and it is this that is most essential. Jesus quotes “Isaiah 55:2 – “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance.” What these people need is not so much “food” -- they need life! Life is the greatest gift.

The crowd, being the persistent bunch that they are, again asks Jesus for a sign to indicate that He really is who He says He is. Paul also says that the Jews are always looking for signs (1 Corinthians 1:22). The rabbis taught that when the Messiah would come, He would duplicate the miracle of the manna (Exodus 16) that came down from heaven...from God. If Jesus is truly from God, then let Him prove it by causing manna to fall from heaven. They want to “see and believe.” I may be missing something here, didn’t Jesus just do this for them...albeit in a different way? He just fed 5000 of them with “bread from heaven.” They miss the truth, because they are preoccupied with other things.

Faith that is based on signs alone, and not on the truth of the Word of God, can lead a person astray. Now, Jesus clearly identifies what, or rather, Who the bread is. He is the true Living Bread that has come down from heaven. He comes…not only for Israel…but for the whole world – and not only to sustain life, but to give life. The crowd wants the bread, but only so they would not have to work at living the life! They want to “take it easy.” In His response, Jesus uses two key words – come and believe. Believing is not merely an intellectual pursuit, as in giving assent to doctrine…it means to come to Him and yield our lives to Him. Just as we take in food or drink, we also must “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” as Jesus says in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:6).

Verse 35 is the first of the seven great “I AM” statements recorded by John. When “Jesus uses the name “I AM,” He is definitively claiming to be God. Jesus concludes His message with hope – that those who would believe in Him and obey would see salvation. Our hope for life…spiritual and eternal…is in the Bread. Jesus says that, in the looking for “signs,” many people miss the “real deal.” Too many people get caught up in the trappings of religion…whether or not they have all of their i’s dotted and t’s crossed…and they miss the point. We can believe that we understand “all of the doctrine” and “still not know the doctrine-maker.” We must not major in eating that which does not sustain us, spiritually. The Bread of Life…His life and message…is the spiritual food that we need to sustain us. We need a relationship with the One who is able to save our souls…we cannot settle for any substitute. Blessings,


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Living Outside the Box


Amanda Wilson shares this -- Catholic priest, author and theologian, Henri Nouwen was a person whose heart was willing to serve the Lord. And as a world-renown Catholic educator and teacher he had a great deal of success in encouraging others in their faith. Yet one day, he believed God called him to leave that and become a house parent in the Le Arche community, an organization that gives homes to mentally and physically handicapped children. So he did. He left the world of the popular speaker and entered a home where none of the people he was ‘father’ to knew of his fame and success. Believing that he would be serving them, Nouwen soon found that the shoe was on the other foot. When Nouwen came into a room he saw the faces of the children light up. Each day he was greeted with smiles and hugs, openly involved in the sorrows and success of the children, and generally made to feel like a valuable part of the community. Before long, Nouwen found himself in the deepest pit of depression that he had ever experienced. In the face of the profound love and acceptance that these handicapped children had given him, Nouwen’s reliance on his ability to dazzle with knowledge crumbled and the loss was devastating. Yet it was in this breaking point that Nouwen experienced the unconditional love of God at the very core of his being and he understood that God can and does use the handicapped and wounded to do His will. Out of that experience came the wonderful book, The Wounded Healer, which ends with the statement that “the wound which causes us to suffer now will be revealed to us later as the place where God made his new creation in us most intimately known.” Someone has said, “Faith is not believing that God can -- it is knowing that He will. Faith is deaf to doubt, dumb to discouragement, blind to impossibilities and knows nothing but success in God.”

In Luke 7:1-10, we find a centurion who, although he is a Gentile, understands who Christ was and is. The story is significant because it is a Gentile who exercises this faith and this would be of special interest to Theophilus, the Gentile to whom this account is addressed. Only twice in all of Scripture is Jesus said to “marvel” or be amazed. The other time is when He begins His public ministry in his hometown of Nazareth, and he is rejected by his fellow Jews – “he was amazed by their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:6, Luke 4:14-30). The centurion has a faith that is more perceptive and sensitive than anything Jesus has witnessed in Israel. What could be more horrible than to amaze the Son of God with one’s lack of faith? What could be more thrilling than to amaze Him with one’s faith? This centurion has amazing faith! What we need to consider is, “Why was Jesus so amazed?” What are the characteristics that make this man’s faith so amazing?

The first characteristic is that it causes this man to love across all barriers (vv. 1-2). Jesus has just completed the teaching known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” Now He enters into Capernaum, a city on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus is in Capernaum, he is approached by representatives of a Roman Centurion. Centurions are commonplace in the Roman Empire. They are equivalent in rank to a modern-day army captain and normally in command of 100 soldiers. This particular centurion has a servant who is ill. Matthew, in his account of this incident (8:6), uses a term that represents this person as a young child. Whoever this young man is, Luke…whom you will remember is a doctor…says that he “is sick and ready to die.” If you have ever known a loved one that was at death’s door, then you know this centurion’s awful sense of helplessness. We are told that this man loved Israel, even though it is not the land of his birth. It is also evident that this man cares deeply about his young servant, which is very out of the ordinary, socially. He crosses racial and ethnic barriers when he, as a Gentile, appeals to a Jew for help. This man loves people who are not just like himself.

The second characteristic of his amazing faith is that it causes him to be excited and active in the work of God (vv. 3-4). We need to understand that the Jewish elders had little love for the Romans in general and Roman soldiers in particular. This man must have been a very unique individual for the elders to be willing to approach Jesus on his behalf. The elders not only bring the man’s request but they vouch for their Gentile friend. They argue that he is a man of integrity and he was well liked by the Jews, and worthy of Jesus’ help. Verse three says, “The elders, when they approach Jesus say, ‘For he loves our nation, and has built us a synagogue.’” This man has given substantially to the building of a house of worship. (Gentile worshipers were barred from the Temple in Jerusalem but not so with the synagogue, the synagogue was a place where even a Gentile could come and listen to the word of God being taught.) So during the time and place that this centurion lives, a significant way that God “spreads His light” is the synagogue system. The man uses his money, his reputation and his influence to build a synagogue. This centurion consciously chooses to participate. He enthusiastically involves himself in what is most apparent that God is doing. This story will be continued. 

Michael McCartney shares this – “Before anyone can ever be convinced of the value of involvement and mutuality, that person must come to terms with the consequences of isolationism. The fact is -- we need each other. The other side of the coin is axiomatic: Without each other, unhealthy and unhappy things happen to us. Studies and psychological analyses strongly suggest that individuals cannot function effectively without deep links to others. Continuously meaningful and secure bonds are essential or we risk losing our humanity. Even though it is easy to buy into the selfish lifestyle and opt for isolationism instead of involvement, the consequences are bitter and inescapable. That’s why the simple, profound counsel of Solomon remains so needed: ‘Two are better than one…” Swimming with the current of today’s “me-ism” mindset has a way of eclipsing the contrasting light of Scripture. The truth is whether you want to admit it or not we need each other and we need friends to die for.

This involvement in other’s lives is something that the centurion grasped. It reveals his love and wisdom which are beyond reason. He seems to understand, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that” (Luke 6:32-33)…even though there would seem to be no reasonable way that he could understand. As we remember the example of this centurion I must ask, What is it that God is doing that you are excited about? What is it that matters to you that you are enthusiastically giving yourself to? I believe these are very significant questions. All of us to some extent are aware of what God is doing in the world. There is no such thing as living by great faith while accepting the status quo…it isn’t going to happen. I want to close with this -- “To laugh is to risk appearing the fool. To weep is to risk appearing sentimental. To reach out for another is to risk involvement. To expose feelings is to risk exposing your true self. To place your ideas and your dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss. To love is to risk not being loved in return. To live is to risk dying. To hope is to risk despair. To try is to risk failure. But risks must be taken, because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing. The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, and is nothing. They may avoid suffering and sorrow but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love or live. Charmed by their attitudes they are a slave, they have forfeited their freedom. Only a person who risks is free.” Anonymous

Blessings, Don