Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Empty Tomb



I was chatting with a friend the other day about the cross and he mentioned how he has often thought that he would rather wear a necklace bearing the likeness of an empty tomb rather than that cruel instrument of torture on which our Savior died. He even said he had the impulse to construct an empty tomb in his front yard for Easter, much like some people do with a manger at Christmas.
I agreed wholeheartedly, and even though I have nothing against wearing a cross, I have thought an empty tomb necklace would be a wonderful thing.

And that reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in all the Bible. It’s when the women come to the tomb and find the stone has been rolled away. Suddenly, two angels appear before them as men clothed in garments that shine and flash like lightning. The sun was just coming up at the time, so it’s a safe guess the incredibly brilliant light hurt their eyes. The Bible records that the appearance of angels almost always creates fear in human beings, and this time was no different.

But it’s what they say that gets to me:

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” (Luke 24:5-6 ESV)

No, Jesus was not in that tomb! He was, and is, alive!
And that got me to thinking how often we seek life from things that are dead.

Money and cars and boats and clothes and even our homes—all the things we seek that we think will bring us the life we want—all these are dead things. There is no real life in any of them.

Only in Jesus is there life.
And, like Lazarus called out of his own tomb and raised from the dead, Jesus commands that we shed the dead man’s clothes and be free!

“Unbind him, and let him go.” (John 11:44b)
Yes, Jesus is alive and we do not find Him among the dead, but among the living. Indeed, after the Resurrection, the disciples find Jesus in all the places they had found Him before: in the house were they met, walking along the road, breaking bread and sharing a meal, at the mountain where He had preached, and beside the Sea of Galilee.

When you look at the account of the resurrection in the final chapters of each of the four gospels, it’s as if we are being urged to seek Jesus in common, ordinary places—and always with other believers.

And, we are blessed that there is one inanimate object God has given us that is alive. There is great comfort in knowing that if we feel lost and alone and Jesus seems very far away, He can always be found in the pages of the Living Word, the Bible.
Oh, and if you do choose to wear an empty tomb around your neck or erect one in your front yard, know that I will understand and applaud.
Today’s Praise
All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. (1 Peter 1:3-4 NLT)

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Render unto Caesar



Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” he asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they replied. (Mark 12:15-16 NIV)
With tax time upon us, something struck me about the passage above.

It’s from a very familiar, often-quoted passage which appears in Matthew, Mark, and Luke where the Pharisees and the Herodians are trying to trap Jesus into saying something that will cause him trouble.

After making a great (false) show of how righteous they thought Jesus was, they asked him if the Jews should pay taxes to Caesar.

They thought they had him on this one.

If he answered, “Yes” they could say he couldn’t possibly be the Messiah because they were convinced the Messiah would free them from Roman oppression. An affirmative answer, they reasoned, would greatly diminish his support and weaken him.

On the other hand, if he answered, “No” he would be guilty of rebellion and insurrection. He could have even possibly started a riot.

But…
Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at him. (Mark 12:17 ESV)
Jesus gives a heavenly, spiritual answer. It is a marvelous answer. The kingdom of God is not about money, so pay your taxes.

We “get” that.

But, it seems we tend to pass over the last half of his answer pretty quickly. If we are to render unto God the things that are God’s, just what are those things?

The Bible says God owns the cattle on a thousand hills. Everything on this earth was created by Him. So, what can we possibly give Him that He does not already have?

 The perfection of Jesus’ answer comes from the question he asked.

If the denarius bears Caesar’s image, what bears God’s image?
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27 ESV)

And what bears God’s inscription?
And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:3 ESV)

So, what do we give to God?

Submit yourselves therefore to God. (James 4:7a ESV)

Today’s Praise
All You've ever wanted, all You've ever wanted
All You've ever wanted was my heart
Freedom's arms are open, my chains have all been broken
Relentless love has called me from the start
And all You wanted was my heart.
(Chorus from “All You’ve Ever Wanted” by Casting Crowns.)

 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Skull

 
Skulls seem to be everywhere nowadays. I see them on cars, trucks, motorcycles, jewelry, backpacks, toys, clothing, and on pretty much everything other than food. It’s even on baby clothes.

Why somebody would want to adorn themselves (or their baby for that matter) with a symbol of death, I do not know.

I always thought the skull and crossed bones was reserved for evil, bloodthirsty pirates and bottles of poison, but apparently, now this age-old symbol of human mortality and the grave is now fashionable.

I guess it’s not surprising in a society that is de-sensitized to death and, come to think of it, recently reveled in a sparkly vampire fad.

Granted, a few cultures do use the human skull to symbolize life, but that was not the case in Jesus’ time and place, nor is it so in our culture.

From what I can tell, the message of the skull in our culture is that one is cool, tough, and not to be “messed with.”

It’s the kind of thing people do who have this nagging feeling that they are maybe a little weak or vulnerable or maybe even afraid.

But, at this time of Lent, the skull makes me think of Golgotha.

So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, or Jesus between them. (John 16b – 18 ESV)

The irony is that what Jesus did on that hill of injustice and torture and death that day was the fulfillment of God’s plan from the very beginning to bring us not just life, but eternal life.

He would hang from that cross and look down on the very people who subjected him to a mockery of a trail, who beat him and tortured him and mocked him and murdered him and He would speak words that would have never entered our minds had we been in his place:

Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." (Like 23:34a NIV)

The way I look at it, the crucifixion of Jesus is the central point in all of human history. It is the fulcrum, the balance point, on which one side of the scale is all of human history prior to that day and our failed attempts at righteousness under the Law. And on the other side of the balance point is peace with God through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Evil and death were conquered at the Place of the Skull. The serpent’s skull was crushed, and out of that sealed tomb arose not only a living, glorious, triumphant Jesus, but generation after generation of new creations in Him who would live and move and have their being because of His courage and love, His mercy and grace, to the praise of His glory!

Now I don’t know much about being fashionable, but I do know the cross conquered the skull that day 2000 years ago. So the choice of the symbol I wear around my neck isn’t difficult for me at all.

Today’s Praise
But very early on Sunday morning the women went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. So they went in, but they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. As they stood there puzzled, two men suddenly appeared to them, clothed in dazzling robes. The women were terrified and bowed with their faces to the ground. Then the men asked, “Why are you looking among the dead for someone who is alive? He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! (Luke 24: 1-6a NLT)

 

 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

To the Glory of God!





For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans 1:20 NLT)

God is amazing in so many ways. His glory is indeed all around us.

We can see that glory in each sunrise, which holds new mercies each morning. God didn’t have to make the sunrise beautiful, but He did.

We can see His glory in the stars of night. With the unaided eye, on a good, clear night you may see 2,500 stars. But scientists estimate there is one septillion in the entire known universe. That’s 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars stretching out across 45.7 billion light years.

You can see His glory in the animals He created.

Take for example the nautilus. This is a squid-like creature living in a spiral shell that propels itself backward by shooting out jets of water. As it grows, it makes successively larger compartments for itself and closes off the one it previously occupied. But, it leaves a tube connecting the empty chambers so it can pump water in and out of those chambers so it can float up or sink down as it has need.

And, the amazing part is that the curve of its shell from building all those compartments follows a precise and predictable complex mathematical formula called a fractal. Fractals are present in lightning, leaves, blood vessels, and even mountain ranges.

God left His fingerprints in many places.

One of those fingerprints is Fibonacci numbers which are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…etc.  It’s a series of numbers where any number in the series is the sum of the two numbers before it. Clearly, this is not a random sequence--but it is present in the arrangement of leaves on the stems of plants, the fruit sprouts of pineapple, the flowering of an artichoke, an uncurling fern and the arrangement of a pine cone.

When Fibonacci numbers are used to draw a spiral, (which mathematicians call “The Golden Spiral”) it looks exactly like a nautilus shell.

God’s glory is also present in animal behavior.

In the Ravi Zacharias book, “Recapture the Wonder” he tells of the Red Knot, a small sandpiper that makes a yearly journey from the very tip of South America to the arctic islands of the Canadian North. At various points along this journey, the Red Knot stops to feed precisely when and where an abundance of food is available. For example, they touch down in Delaware Bay in mid-May exactly when horseshoe crabs are laying millions of eggs.

 When they reach their destination north of Hudson Bay, each female lays four speckled eggs. When the chicks hatch, the adults take care of them for a time but by mid-July the chicks have grown large enough to fend for themselves. Then the females leave and the males follow the females back to South America a week later. The chicks stay behind, growing larger and stronger until they finally leave in late August.

Then, with no adults to guide them, the juvenile birds begin their nine-thousand mile journey southward. They know exactly where and when to stop and feed, and they arrive precisely back at their South American destination where they rejoin their parents.

Obviously, such a behavior could never have evolved, even over millions of years, because all of the genetic information guiding these birds would have been lost in the very first failed attempt.

Yes, God gets the glory on His care and love for these birds.

But the greatest glory due God is for the plan of salvation He had for us in his son, Jesus Christ. There is no other belief system on this planet that admits we cannot be what we should be on our own. Only Jesus was willing to die for us to save us.

And to Him belongs all the glory.

Amen.

Today’s Praise
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. (Psalm 19:1-2, NIV)

 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Somebody Complained



Complaining seems to be a natural human tendency.

The Bible is full of examples.

In Numbers 2, the Lord had just given the Canaanites into Israel’s hands and they had utterly defeated them. The Bible says they grew impatient on their journey to the Promised Land and they complained: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (Numbers 2: 5b)

This while manna would fall from sky and water would spring forth from rocks and they defeated every enemy in their path. In fact, it seems almost every chapter of Israel’s journey to the Promised Land contains some mention of the people complaining.

 A lot of times, it seems all it takes is one person complaining to end something that was an overall good thing—or to stop something good before it even has a chance to get off the ground.

I was listening to Pastor James McDonald preach on Kinship Christian Radio this evening and he read a quote from a speech by President Theodore Roosevelt given to the men working on the Panama Canal in 1906 that I found very interesting:

 “Why, gentlemen, there never was a great feat done yet that there were not some men evil enough, small enough, or foolish enough, to wish to try to interfere with it and to sneer at those who are actually doing the work. From time to time, little men will come along to find fault with what you have done; to say that something could have been done better; that there has been some mistake, some shortcoming; that things are not really managed in the best of all possible manners, in the best of all possible worlds. They will have their say and they will go downstream like bubbles; they will vanish; but the work you have done will remain for the ages. It is the man who does the job who counts, not the little scolding critic who thinks how it ought to have been done.”

France began construction of the fifty-mile Panama Canal in 1881 but had to give up because of engineering problems and an incredible number of workers dying on the job, mostly due to yellow fever and malaria. The U.S. took over in 1904 and took another decade to complete what is now known as one of the seven wonders of the modern world.  It cost hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives.

But the alternative to building the Panama Canal was sailing around the entire continent of South America through difficult and dangerous seas, a distance of 13,000 miles if going from New York to San Francisco. The canal cuts that distance to less than half and avoids Cape Horn, long regarded as one of the most dangerous places in any ocean.

Most of the people who died building the Panama Canal were paid ten cents per day. (That’s the equivalent of $2.78 in today’s dollars.)

As Christians, we have the opportunity to encourage our fellow Christians to be the light that turns people to Jesus, not for the “treasure” of $2.78 a day, but for eternal treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy.

We have the opportunity to spare people the long and painful journey through the difficult and dangerous seas of life by telling them about Jesus—the one who calms the raging sea.

And, we have the opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ every day of our lives. That has the potential of not just saving lives, but saving the eternal lives of souls.

And that, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, is the greatest wonder in all the world.

Today’s Praise

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6)

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Epic Fail




Last week, I was running late for work (as usual) and the last thing I needed to do before stepping out the door was grab a piece of paper I had left on the kitchen table. A man’s name and phone number was on that piece of paper and I had promised I would call him that day. My wife and daughter were in the kitchen, also preparing for work.

The piece of paper was not where I had left it.

After looking for it for a full 30 seconds, (which did include moving several other pieces of paper on the table around) I could not find it.

“Where is that piece of paper with that guy’s number on it? I know I left it right THERE!” I fumed, pointing to a two-square-inch area of the table.

“It was right HERE!” (Underline, italic, bold, all-caps.)

The obvious implication was that one of the people whom I dearly love had taken that incredibly valuable piece of paper and hidden it from me in a vile, evil plot to make my life miserable.

Both of my girls calmly sat there and watched me over-turn and redistribute everything on the table three or four times. It was no use. It was gone. Why weren’t they helping my find it? What was I going to do? I was late for work and I simply had to call that guy today!

Then, strangely, inexplicably, I placed my hand on my back pocket…

Yes, the piece of paper had been there (apparently right next to where I had been keeping my brain) the whole time. 

The only evil in the room was me. I had let myself fly into a rage when there was no one to blame but me. No excuse--guilty on all counts.

Fruit of the Spirit? Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control?  Now those words rang in my conscience underlined, italicized, in bold-face type and all caps.

Some Christian. Yeah. Epic fail Christian. Somebody ought to beat me senseless with a WWJD bracelet.

I thought I was a new creation when I believed in Christ. How could I act like that?

The apostle Paul was no stranger to this this very thing: 

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:15 ESV)

He’s even harder on himself than I was on myself:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:24 ESV)

The fact is, my soul became a new creation when I came to Christ, but my flesh will not become a new creation until the resurrection.

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8:24 ESV)

So, how do I cope with this flesh, this body of death, until the resurrection?

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  (Romans 8:34 ESV)

And there is the comfort, the sure hope, the peace. We can lay those sins at the foot of the cross and ask Jesus to intercede. We can pray and cast off those awful, ugly burdens that drag us down. His Spirit does live in us and we can change.

And we can be assured that we will be changed. Maybe not overnight, maybe not in a week, but we know we will share in Christ’s victory.

Today’s Praise

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:37-39 ESV)

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Organized Religion


I have heard some make the statement that they believe in God, but not in organized religion.

Certainly, much evil has taken place under the cover of organized religion and I would agree that evil perpetrated in the name of God is reprehensible.  

But what’s the alternative?

If organized religion is bad, does that mean disorganized religion would be better?

Yes, there is a movement of Christianity out there which seeks to be less organized. There are those who meet in house churches for the express purpose of not being part of any large organized religious group.

There’s also compelling evidence that the fastest-growing Christian denomination is non-denominational.

I find that ironic.

Certainly, the backlash caused by various abuses within various churches is understandable. And, there is certainly something to be said for smaller groups being less likely to suffer from an accumulation of power and the almost inevitable abuse of that power.

Jesus himself reserved his harshest words for the power-brokers of organized religion of his day:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:15)

In fact, the entire chapter of Matthew 23 is a diatribe against the Pharisees and the scribes. Jesus repeatedly calls them hypocrites to their faces and asks how they will escape being condemned to hell. He is not reserved, also calling them “snakes” and a “brood of vipers.”

And yet, in Acts 6, when the young church was growing by leaps and bounds, Jesus’ own disciples set up an organized system to divide labor so they could devote themselves to prayer and preaching the word.

Clearly, it is natural that believers in Christ would gather together to hear the word, to learn, to encourage one another, and to otherwise be a part of the family of God.

And a family, if it is to be functional, is bound to have some form of organization.

When I was researching this blog, I saw a bumper sticker on an atheist Facebook page that said, “26,000 children will die of starvation today. Why should God answer YOUR prayers?”

This despite the fact that I could not find evidence of a single atheist organization anywhere in the world that has fed a single starving child.

Meanwhile, the largest U.S.-based international relief and development organization (that does indeed feed starving children) is a Christian group.

There are Christian organizations all over the world that not only feed children but also provide clean drinking water, heal the sick, provide wheelchairs to the lame, help the blind and vision-impaired, free people from addiction, teach children to read and write, give hope to those in prison and their families, run orphanages, fight human trafficking, give aid to those devastated by natural disasters, clothe and house the poor, provide shelter for the homeless, help people grow food and become self-sufficient, and the list goes on and on.

Those Christians organizations have world-changing impacts for good.

But, the thing that is so often never said is that the good done by Christian organizations far outweighs the bad.

The case can also be made that there is more Christian benevolence on this planet than all other forms.

So, I believe that it’s not organized religion that is inherently evil- it’s the abuse of organized religion by sinful people within those organizations.

That’s why, in Matthew 23, Jesus’ indictment against the Pharisees began with the legalism that none of them (including the Pharisees themselves) could keep. (See verse 4.)

By the way, an atheist group calling itself the “Alliance Defending Freedom” recently tried to stop school children in Golden Valley, Minnesota, from packaging meals for starving children through a local Christian organization because they said it violated the constitutional separation of church and state.

Today’s Praise
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:16 ESV)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Winter


I’d like to write something for you, brothers and sisters in Christ, to encourage you and bring you hope and help you make it through this long, long, brutal winter.

As I write this, it is snowing once again and the forecast calls for more high winds and sub-zero temperatures. And, yes, the media is again using that phrase that resounds in my psyche like chewing on tin foil while shaving my head with a cheese-grater.

Polar vortex, indeed...

Oh, I know spring will come. It has to. God promised it would:

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.” (Gen. 8:22 ESV)

And there are plenty of verses about patience:

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:12)

Not to mention one of my favorites, even though I am not very good at it at all.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, (Philippians 2:14)

I had a conversation with my daughter about winter and being happy.  She related a Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that was brought up recently in a class she is taking.  

Number One on the list of “happiest” states in the nation was: North Dakota.

This was followed by South Dakota, Nebraska, and Minnesota. Iowa was also in the top ten.

Hawaii was number eight.  In fact, Hawaii was the only state in the top ten that was a “warm” state. All the rest were states that are most definitely in the Snow Belt.

There were sub-categories in this study also. Topping the list in “Emotional Health” was Alaska where people go without seeing the sun for months! And the highest “Life Evaluation” index came from Nebraska!

I’ve been to Nebraska. That’s why I put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence. Trees find Nebraska boring.

Obviously, how we gauge our quality of life has little to do with the physical climate. The study gave credit to increased job opportunities as the reason for North Dakota’s top ranking but life evaluation, emotional health, work environment, physical health, healthy behaviors, and access to basic necessities were also part of the data used in the assessment.

Maybe winter isn’t so bad after all. Maybe winter makes us appreciate spring even more.

Song of Solomon, Chapter 2, is widely accepted as a conversation between Jesus and the Church (the bridegroom and the bride) when they are united together for eternity. Here are verses ten through twelve:

My beloved speaks and says to me:
Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away,
 for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

I think I’m going to go make a snowball, put it in my freezer, wait a few months, and (in Christian love) give it to the very first person who uses the phrase,

“Hot enough for ya?”

Today’s Praise

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Cast-Away



"Men," he said, "I believe there is trouble ahead if we go on--shipwreck, loss of cargo, and danger to our lives as well." (Acts 27:10 NLT)

I am fascinated by the story of Jose Salvador Alvarenga.

Mr. Alvarenga is the cast-away who came ashore on the tiny bit of land in the Marshall Islands called Ebon Atoll on January 30 after spending an estimated 13 months at sea.

Alverenga is originally from El Salvador but moved to Mexico about 15 years ago. He made his living fishing for sharks.

Sometime in November or December of 2012, Alverenga and a companion named Ezequiel (whose exact age at the time has been reported as between 15 and 18) left the fishing village of Costa Azul in a 24 foot fiberglass fishing boat. They were blown off course and shortly thereafter, the boat’s motor ceased to function.

They were adrift on the sea.

Search crews were set out to find them, but found no trace.

The world had no idea exactly what happened on that little boat until Alverenga made landfall on Ebon Atoll.  Many of the details were sketchy and contradictory at first.

Almost all of the reports in those first days when the news broke said that Alverenga had prayed to God day after day to be saved.

The media’s first reaction was skepticism. Many thought it impossible that anyone could survive that long on the open ocean. Alverenga said he ate turtles, birds, and small fish he caught with his hands. His companion, unable to stomach the only available food, died four months into the ordeal and Alverenga had to push his body overboard. He contemplated suicide for four days afterward, but he said God told him not to take his own life.

The skepticism was somewhat understandable on a superficial level because Alverenga did not appear thin and gaunt in the initial pictures. He also could not remember some details of his former life correctly.

Nonetheless, the boat bore clear markings of the fishing cooperative in Costa Azul and Mexican government records, although notoriously inaccurate, did show two people with similar names had gone missing in that boat at about the time Alverenga said.

Doctors examining him could not pinpoint how long he had been at sea, but it was clear he had some very negative health consequences as a result of his experience and that he had been on the ocean for a very long time.  Alverenga himself acknowledged in very early statements that some of what he said was muddled because he had gone so long without human contact.

“The sea, the sea,” he would say. “The sea and the boat.”

I can only imagine how difficult such an ordeal would have been. It is estimated Alverenga drifted some 6500 miles. Over the 13 months, that means the boat would have averaged less than seven-tenths of a mile per hour. Babies can crawl faster than that.

Alevrenga also said he saw dozens and dozens of boats during the ordeal. He would stand up and wave and shout. People on the boats would either wave back or just ignore him. But no one rescued him.

As more details came out, we learned that Alverenga had served in the El Salvadoran military, where he had learned survival skills.

We learned he avoided sun stroke and dehydration by hiding under a big blue cooler—presumably the same cooler the sharks he caught had been kept in.

We also learned he left his family in El Salvador those many years ago because he had been knifed in a drunken bar fight.

But in all of the media reports, even in those very first reports that made it clear that no one had survived that long at sea, the word “miracle” was never used.

What happened to Jose Salvador Alverenga is such a striking picture of how so many of us have lived our lives.

We have led lives far apart from how God tells us to live our lives. We have left our families and tried to start a new life, only to be blown off course. We have pushed overboard the dead bodies of those who could not stomach our lifestyle. We have found ourselves alone and adrift, hopeless, and seemingly without any forward progress in our lives. We have been reduced to doing what it takes to merely survive, unable to do any more than the bare minimum.

We have stood up in our boats and waved and shouted for help, but not had those signals recognized for what they really were.

Finally, alone and adrift with all hope gone, we have prayed to God to save us.  Day after endless day we have prayed, hiding under boxes to shield ourselves from the glare of the sun.

And then one day, we drifted ashore. We were fed and clothed, given a haircut and cleaned up. The joy on our faces at our rescue masked all the pain and hurt we had gone through, so much so some could not believe we had ever been in such a state.

Our wounds were dressed and slowly, slowly we began to heal.

We were saved at last and, even though society may refuse to acknowledge it as such, it is nothing short of a miracle.

God did save us. He did hear our prayers and He answered in love. Jesus died in our place. He is our only hope of salvation.

Last week, Jose Salvador Alverenga was reunited with his family in El Salvador—a country whose name means “The Savior.”

Today’s Praise

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.      (2 Timothy 4:18 NIV

 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hallelujah!


After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting: "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, (Revelation 19:1 NIV)
I recently gave the children’s message in church and it did not go the way I had planned.
I was trying to teach the youngsters about praising God, so I asked them to say “Hallelujah.”
Their response was less than enthusiastic.
So, I demonstrated.
“Hallelujah!” I said, as I raised my hands.
They kind of muttered the word. None of them raised their hands.
“HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH!” I nearly shouted.
Some of them managed to say it in a normal tone of voice, but none of them with enthusiasm and none of them raised their hands any higher than their waist.
Then, I asked them how that word made them feel.
“Weird,” said one little girl.
The congregation chuckled.
I vainly tried to explain that “Hallelujah” meant “Praise the Lord” and that praising the Lord is a very, very good thing which they should remember throughout their lives.
They did that thing kids do where they shift their weight from one foot to the other when they want to make it incredibly obvious that they are totally bored and you have lost all of their attention.
So I gave them treats.
As I was sitting on the lake today for many hours not catching fish, it occurred to me that I still feel “weird” when I raise my hands to praise the Lord in church.
Oh, I can pray and praise the Lord and have no problem at all raising my hands in surrender and praise—when there are no other people around.
It’s a people thing. I’m self-conscious and it bothers me. I’m not ashamed of Jesus, so why does this silly feeling persist?
I mean, it’s not like another member of the congregation is going to come up to me and say, “You know, you really look stupid when you do that.” I know that’s not going to happen. Some of them raise their hands, too.
Maybe it’s because I was raised in a church where we never did that. Church was a solemn occasion. We just did not do that. Ever.
Come to think of it, I don’t think I ever attended a church service where people raised their hands in praise until about ten years ago. I can’t remember the first time I saw someone do that but I do recall a feeling of simultaneous shock and awe.
‘Wow, that’s really great, but I could never do that.” I thought to myself.
It reminds me of something I heard Christian music artist Don Moen say during one of his concerts. Moen said he was from Northern Minnesota and his dad said something to him about the “enthusiasm” in his music.  Don replied in a manner indicating how awesome God is and what a deep, deep joy it is to be saved and set free by the blood of Jesus. “Well, yeah,” said his dad, “but I don’t see why you have to get so emotional about it.”
I absolutely get that God is worthy of our respect, but I also firmly believe what Jesus did for us is worthy of as many hearty “Hallelujahs” as we can muster.
As I was pondering all this, I had the radio tuned to Kinship Christian Radio and “Power in the Blood” came on.
Lord, how we need Your power
Every day and every hour
Lord, how we need Your power
Every day and every hour
Lord how we need Your
Power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb
Power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb
Yeah. That made it all clear.
I should have told those kids “Hallelujah” meant “YAY GOD!”
Today’s Praise
He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Luke 19:40 (ESV)