What Others Say

""Authentic Disciple: Sermon On the Mount" by Bill Tinsley is an in-depth look at Jesus' Sermon on the Mount and an excellent self-examination tool. I'm using this in my daily time with the Lord and finding it to be an excellent tool in fulfilling the command in Joshua 3:5: "Consecrate yourselves for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you."" - Sharon Mertz

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Promise of Palm Sunday

Next Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day we remember Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem a week before he was arrested, crucified and raised from the dead three days later.

Jesus descended the Mount of Olives seated on a donkey as men, women and children shouted and sang knowing that, by this act, Jesus had proclaimed himself to be the longed for Messiah.   They all knew the prophecy: “Rejoice greatly, daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zechariah 9:9). After crossing the Kidron Valley, He entered Jerusalem through the eastern gate. 

Around the world Christians will gather to celebrate this historic event.  Last year over 2,000 children took part in a procession in St. Petersburg, Russia; Christian youth waved palm branches in northern Iraq; believers gathered for services in Beijing, Shenzhen and Wenzhou, China; Christians danced in Palm Sunday processions in Zambia, Nigeria and Ghana.  Hundreds of millions around the world will gather for worship and remembrance.

Four weeks ago I stood at the spot where Palm Sunday took place.  From the Mount of Olives, where He began his journey astride the donkey, I could see the sealed up eastern gates of ancient Jerusalem. Our Jewish guide told us that the Muslim occupation had sealed up the gates to prevent the Jewish Messiah from entering. 

With my friends, I read Ezekiel 44:2, “This gate is to remain shut. It must not be opened; no one may enter through it. It is to remain shut because the Lord, the God of Israel, has entered through it.”  I was reminded that Jesus, fulfilling all Messianic prophecy, had already entered.

Jesus predicted what would happen.  He would be crucified and raised from the dead.  There would be wars and rumors of wars, earthquakes and famines.  Evil would continue to increase.   “Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matthew 24)

He promised that when He returns He will judge the earth, all evil will be abolished and He will establish a new heaven and a new earth where men will dwell in peace with one another and with God.  (Revelation 21).  

Like those who lined his route two thousand years ago, this Palm Sunday believers from around the world will raise their voices to proclaim Jesus Christ as the Messiah, the King.  As they do so, they not only look back to that historic day when Jesus first entered Jerusalem.  They look forward to a day when He will return. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

What Are You Worried About?

The world gives us plenty to worry about. 

Some worry about the stock market.  Two weeks ago stocks plummeted giving rise to fears of another recession and wide-spread layoffs. Radio Shack announced it was bankrupt and Target laid off 1,700 at its headquarters in Minneapolis.  A week later the market rebounded.  Who knows what the report will be by the time you read this column? 

Students worry about tests, assignments and grades. Recent graduates worry about looming student loans.  Parents worry about making ends meet, raising their children and sending their kids to college.

Terrorism stalks the news.  Al Qaeda has morphed into ISIS which has gone global recruiting teens and young adults from Europe and Australia.  The Boston bombing trial for Dzokhar Tsanaev is in full swing. Family members worry about sons and daughters, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, who live in a violent world.

Some worry about their health. Many are dealing with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, strokes, injuries and the ravages of old age. Some worry about family members and friends who have become addicted to alcohol and drugs.

The list goes on.  There are lots of things to worry about.  Some big. Some small.

Worry can be a good thing.  Like physical pain, worry can serve as a signal that we need to take action for ourselves and the welfare of others. But worry can also debilitate. All of us experience circumstances beyond our control.  In such cases, worry can rob us of sleep, steal our energy and cripple our creativity. According to WebMD “Chronic worrying affects your daily life so much that it interferes with your appetite, lifestyle habits, relationships, sleep, and job performance.”

Jesus clearly wanted us to live our lives free from debilitating worry.

Jesus said, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:25-34).

Monday, March 9, 2015

Changing The Rules

It is always important to know the rules in anything we do.  We have rules at school, rules at work and rules at home. We establish laws to govern traffic: speed limits, stop signs, turn lanes and signals.  We pass laws for family, marriage, commerce and civil conduct.  We spend billions of dollars to employ law enforcement officials, judges and lawyers to make sure the rules are obeyed.

We even have rules for play. Every sport has its rules with umpires and referees to insure that the rules are enforced.  We have added instant replay to make sure their rulings are fair and objective.  Still, arguments erupt and tempers flare when either side believes it has been unfairly judged.  As the final four heats up, we will watch red-faced basketball coaches frantically screaming from the sidelines at referees who miss calls.

Some rules are unwritten. We assume we know them from birth. They are common to every culture on earth.  They are simple rules:  love your family and your friends.  Do good things for them.  Love your country.  If someone hits you, hit them back.  Don’t break in line. Lend only to those who will pay you back with interest. Look out for “number one.”  Protect your property. Defend yourself. If someone wrongs you, get even.  Sometimes we follow these rules even when they conflict with the law.  They are the stuff of most movies and novels.  They are the rules by which we live our lives.

Jesus’ words sound strange when compared to our natural assumptions about how life is supposed to work. "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:27-36).

Jesus changes all the rules.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Miracle of Life

My daughter was born the year I turned forty.  With two sons already thirteen and eight, we were not expecting another child.  In fact, the doctors told my wife and me that having more children was impossible.  But, the impossible happened.  The doctor’s first question was, “Do you want to terminate this pregnancy?”  We were stunned.  Such a consideration never entered our minds.  Nine months later we were given a beautiful little girl who has blessed our lives immeasurably. I often thought of the doctor’s question when I rocked her to sleep and felt the weight of her slumbering body slump against my shoulder. 

Our daughter is now grown. Six years ago I walked her down the aisle to give her away  to my son-in-law.  I then performed the wedding ceremony and danced with her, one of the highlights of my life. Three years later, they came home and excitedly told us they were expecting a baby, our fourth grandchild.  When they gave us the news of her pregnancy, her baby was no bigger than a small marble. We listened to the baby’s heartbeat and watched her dancing in the womb.  She now dances around the room with her little sister.

Before retirement, my wife worked with pregnant and parenting teens in the public schools.  She constantly sought to help them have a healthy pregnancy, healthy birth, learn how to become a good parent, and stay in school in order to have a future.  With children and grandchildren of our own and my wife’s occupation, you would think that the process of pregnancy and birth would have become commonplace. But it hasn’t.  In fact, it is quite the opposite.  The more I witness the miracle of life by which children are birthed into the world, the more I stand in awe. 

David expressed it best in Psalm 139:  “For you formed my inward parts; you wove me in my mother's womb. I will give thanks to you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful are your works, and my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was made in secret, and skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth; Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.” To the prophet Jeremiah, God said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”  (Jeremiah 1:5).

Every birth, every child and every person is a miracle of God.  We are all more than mere flesh and blood, brain, bone and sinew.  We are made in His likeness, with the awesome freedom to choose good and evil, to bless others or to curse them. We have infinite possibilities and an immortal soul that will one day depart this mortal body. We are eternal beings living in a miraculous universe that astounds our senses. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Jerusalem Prayer

This week I gathered with a group of pastors on the Mount of Olives.  We stood gazing across the Kidron Valley to the eastern wall of old Jerusalem, staring at the sealed up gate where Jesus entered as the Messiah.  While we scanned the horizon overlooking the historic hill where Jesus was crucified, one of our number read John 17, the prayer Jesus prayed on this spot hours before His death:

"“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them.  I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.   “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.
My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.  As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.  For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me.  I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” (John 17).

I left the olive groves desiring that His prayer would be answered.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

What We Don't Know

The total of human knowledge is increasing at an astonishing rate. It is estimated that it took 300 years for knowledge to double after 1450, but only 150 years for it to double again. From 1900 to 1950 it doubled once more. It is now believed to double every 900 days and, after 2020 is expected to double every 72.

Only 200 years ago physicians thought that illness was caused by bad blood. George Washington was virtually bled to death in 1799 as the favored treatment for an obvious infection. One hundred years ago Henry Ford introduced the assembly line and the Model T. Fifty years ago personal computers were unknown. Twenty-five years ago the Internet was introduced to the public. Our access to knowledge and the world has dramatically changed. What is there that we do not know today that will be common knowledge tomorrow? What is it that we think we know that will be proved wrong?

Each of us is able to comprehend only a small segment of the vast ocean of human knowledge. And, when all our knowledge is compiled and computed it only scratches the surface of the limitless universe. We are still confined to this tiny spec of a planet. We have not been able to travel any further than the moon. The vastness of the universe remains far beyond our reach. The closest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.33 light years away. Traveling at the fastest speed imaginable with current technology, scientists estimate it would take 19,000 years to reach it. At our very best we can only observe the vast reaches of the universe through our telescopes as though looking through a glass darkly.

Regarding God, we debate our axioms and truths as if we have complete and comprehensive knowledge about God. We must always be reminded by the words of the prophet when God says, “My ways are not your ways. My thoughts are not your thoughts. As the heavens are above the earth, so are my thoughts above your thoughts.”

This is one of the reasons God sent his Son, simply because God is incomprehensible. Knowledge of his universe is too vast. Knowledge of his nature and character is too far beyond our mortal minds. As with his creation, we can only observe and stand in awe.

We are like newborn babes first opening their eyes to a new world they have never seen. We are like children giggling over new found discoveries on the play ground: a stick, a flower, a worm, a caterpillar. I think God takes joy in this. He takes pleasure in our discoveries of his intricate, complex and mysterious creation. At the same time, he is grieved by our blindness. The violence, cruelty, abuse and conflict that exists in the earth bears witness that for all our advance in scientific and technological knowledge, we are still unable to focus on the truths that matter most. Jesus, as God in human flesh, was the only one who has ever known and seen all things clearly. For all of our advances we have yet to learn the Sermon on the Mount and put it into practice.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Ebola and Answered Prayer

In a surprising turn of events, President Obama is recalling the troops who were deployed to Liberia four months ago to fight Ebola.  According to USA Today, “President Obama is all but ending the U.S. military mission to Liberia to fight Ebola next month, as infection rates there fell to near zero.”  Time Magazine published an article this week entitled: “After Ebola: See Life Returning to Normal in Liberia.”

Just six months ago the world was virtually paralyzed with fear that the Ebola virus would become a global epidemic infecting and killing victims by the hundreds of thousands. Headlines dominated the news media warning of the deadly implications of Ebola. Many were near panic when a Liberian man died of the disease in Dallas and a nurse attending him was diagnosed with Ebola after flying to Chicago.

When Dr. Kent Brantly and his nurse were flown to the U. S. for treatment after contracting Ebola in their efforts to treat victims in Liberia, many cringed.  Some questioned the wisdom of transporting known carriers of the disease to American hospitals. But Dr. Brantly and Nurse Nancy Writebol survived.

When asked about his treatment and recovery, Dr. Brantly was clearly convinced that the real secret to his recovery was prayer.  Brantly said, “The people in the room taking care of me, they began praying over me. What I didn’t know at the time is that there were also people outside my house praying for me.” He thoughtfully added, “There were thousands of people, including my teammates there in Liberia who were begging the Lord to save my life.”

Many more hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, prayed.  Web sites like praytoendebola.org were set up.  People were urged to pray for the people of West Africa that they would be receptive to preventive practices, to pray for the medical teams fighting the disease, for the medical research and for the victims.  Thousands risked their lives and traveled to West Africa to fight the disease, including doctors, nurses, medical staff and U.S. troops.

We should continue our prayers.  There is still no proven treatments for Ebola or immunizations to prevent its spread.

But now that the Ebola outbreak has been reduced to near zero, and our troops are being called home, it is time to give thanks.  We should thank the men and women who risked their lives to fight the disease. And we should give thanks to God who has abundantly answered our prayers. 

For some reason, when we are desperate, we are anxious and ready to pray.  But when we are rescued, we are slow to give thanks.  Jesus once healed ten lepers and sent them to show themselves to the priest according to the Jewish custom for healing.  Afterward, of the ten, only one returned to thank Him.  “Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:11-17).