A Sign of Love

Facemask

We are in the midst of fighting the coronavirus pandemic. The COVID-19 has spread rapidly around the world. We are currently doing all we can to stop the spread of the virus. This includes lockdowns and social distancing and face masks.

Historically, face masks have been used as means to prevent the getting the disease. However, due to the nature of COVID-19, this has changed. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that studies have revealed that “a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms. This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms” (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/cloth-face-cover.html).

This means that we all need to change our perspective on face masks. Face masks are not just for those who want to prevent sickness. Face masks are also for those who might be sick and who might transmit COVID-19. Thus, “CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission” (ibid).

For face masks to be accepted in our culture, we need to begin understanding that those in public with face masks on are not trying to protect themselves, but are actually trying to protect others. In this way, they are actually showing love to all of us. Face masks are a sign of live.

This is similar to the cross of Christ. The cross was an emblem of sin and shame (Hebrews 12:2). Yet, Jesus went to the cross as an act of love for us. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). It was upon the cross that Jesus “bore our sins in his body” (1 Peter 2:24).

For those who don’t believe in Jesus, they need to change their perspective about the cross. It’s not a sign of sin and shame. It’s a sign of love.

Show Me!

MissouriWelcomeSign

Willard Duncan Vandiver of Missouri served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903. In the middle of his service, in 1899, he gave a speech at a naval banquet in Philadelphia in which he said, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.” And ever since, Missouri has been known as, “The Show-Me State.”

In fact, it’s their state motto. They are known today as “The Show-Me State.” It’s an attitude that is held by those in Missouri. They are not a gullible people. Regardless of how fine-sounding your argument may appear, they won’t take your word for it. They need sufficient evidence to believe anything.

In this way, those from Missouri share a characteristic of a Biblical character named Thomas. He’s the one who has come to be known as “Doubting Thomas.” You might easily call him, “Thomas from Missouri.”

After the other disciples had seen Jesus, risen from the dead, He was the one who said, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). In effect, he said, “Show me!” Eight days later, he had the opportunity to see!

Truly, it was a great blessing to Thomas to be able to see and believe. Yet, the greater blessing belongs to those who believe without seeing. Jesus said to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Lighthouse

Lighthouse

A typical lighthouse is a tall tower built near dangerous coastlines to help those navigating boats near the shore. Before the days of GPS, they served an essential role for those at sea. They stood as a warning to ships approaching the shore, as maritime pilots could see the light on the shore. In times of low visibility, they were able to create sound using horns, bells or cannons. Another purpose was to provide a navigational aid, as those on the sea were able to identify them by their varying stripe patterns. They also provided light for navigating into shore.

In the same way, Jesus is our lighthouse. His words warn us. His words guide us. Jesus warns us of dangers self-righteousness (Matthew 23) and the vanity of pursuing the world (Matthew 16:26). Jesus guides us in the ways of life, safe in the harbor. How appropriate that Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

Future Immanuel

Immanuel

One of the names given to Jesus is “Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23). Literally, this means, “with us God.” In better English, we say, “God with us.” This is the great reality of Christmas: that God came down from heaven to dwell with us on earth. This all took place in the past.

Another reality of Immanuel is often missed. It’s Immanuel in the future. When believers enter heaven to dwell with God forever, it will again be “God with us.” This is what Jesus promised to those who believe in him. “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3).

The picture of the new heaven in Revelation expresses this reality with these words. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3). This is the great reality of eternity. Believers in Christ will experience “Immanuel” forever.

The Last Words of Buddha

Buddha

Buddha is the common name of a monk who lived in ancient India hundreds of years before Jesus. He was a philosopher and teacher. His teachings are the foundation of Buddhism.

He spent many years of his life traveling and teaching. At the core of Buddha’s teaching was the way to escape the endless cycle of suffering, dying, and rebirth to experience it all again. The escape comes through following the right path of moral virtue and meditation and wisdom.

It is no surprise, then, that Buddha’s last words express the same importance on your own efforts to find liberation. He said, “Work hard to gain your own salvation. Do your best.”

These words stand in stark contrast to the last words of Jesus Christ.  While dying upon the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Not only was the life of Jesus finished, but his work was finished as well. His death was the final sacrifice for sin. We no longer need to work for our salvation. We need to believe in the work of Jesus, accomplished on our behalf.

These words demonstrate the difference between Buddhism and Christianity. Buddhism is about working and striving and seeking to obtain your own salvation. Christianity is about trusting and resting in the work of Jesus, who obtained our salvation for us.

Parabola

Parabola

A parabola is a symmetrical curve on a plane that is shaped like the letter, “U.” To be more technical, it the locus of points on a plane equidistant from a point and a line. It has the general formula:

y = ax² + bx + c

The standard parabola (like the picture above) reaches from infinity on the left to infinity on the right. The further left you go, the higher the shape. The further right you go, the higher the shape.

This shape is a bit like the life of Jesus. He with with God from the beginning (John 1:1). Jesus was in glory with the Father. He was as high as one could be in the universe. But when he came into the flesh, he descended. In fact, he descended as far as anyone has gone before. He “emptied himself” and “was born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7). He then died a despicable death on the cross (Philippians 2:8). But God raised him from the dead and “highly exalted him” (Philippians 2:9). Jesus now sits with the Father at his right hand (Psalm 110:1). Jesus is, once again, restored to his former glory (John 17:5).

A parabola is a good graph of the life of Jesus Christ.

Evaluating a Sermon

As a pastor I’m in to preaching sermons. But, there are far more people in to evaluating sermons (i.e. my congregation).  Here are five key questions to ask regarding evaluating a sermon.

1. Did the preacher capture the big idea of the text?
2. Did the preacher explain the structure of the text?
3. Did the preacher tie the text to the context?
4. Did the preacher preach Christ?
5. Did the preacher give proper application?

Slimmed down, here are the 5 questions:

1. Big Idea?
2. Structure?
3. Context?
4. Christ?
5. So What?

Of course, the most important question in #4. Jesus said, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39). Eternal life isn’t found in the Scriptures. Eternal life is found in the One to whom the Scriptures point.  And they point to Jesus Christ.

 

Behold the Lamb of God!

“The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

In the 1800’s, Charles Spurgeon was planning to preach at The Crystal Palace in London. He went to the place a day or two before the event to test out the acoustics (they didn’t have any amplification back then). So, he cried out in a loud voice, the words of John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”

Unknown to Spurgeon, there was a worker who was working in one of the galleries. He heard the message, was convicted of his sin, and believed on Christ. Such is an example of the power of the word of God.

Solidarity

We Americans have a very individual spirit. Ground into our very existence in our Declaration of Independence is the belief that each person has the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I’m all for these rights. I’m thankful to live in a country in which this is the case. However, one of the drawbacks to this belief is that we all think very individualistically in America. We all get a vote. Each of us has an opportunity to determine our own fate. With hard work, each person has an opportunity to thrive.

There is much individualism in the Bible. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). This is true of each individual human being that walks the planet. However, another central concept in the Bible is the concept of solidarity, which we can easily miss because of our independent spirit.

Solidarity means that we, as individuals, join in with the whole. We are all on the same ship and will be carried along together or sink together. For instance, we are in solidarity with Adam. When Adam sinned, we became guilty as well. Achan’s clan was in solidarity with Achan, so they died when he sinned. Americans tend to protest against these sorts of Biblical stories because of our individualistic mindset. Michael Horton wrote, “The concept of solidarity—human solidarity in Adam and Israel’s solidarity in Abraham and Moses, is basic to the biblical worldview, however alien to our own” (Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011], 424).

Understanding solidarity is crucial for all believers in Christ, because we have solidarity with Christ. When we believe, we receive His righteousness. “The judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification” (Romans 5:16).

I recommend Chris Brauns’ book on the subject (when it comes out).

 

Asleep

The New Testament often uses the word, “sleep,” when referring to death. When Lazarus had died, Jesus said that he had merely “fallen asleep” (John 11:11). When Jairus’ daughter died, Jesus said, “The child has not died, but is asleep” (Mark 5:39). Paul used the same terminology to describe believers who had died. He said that they “have fallen asleep in Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 4:14).

Behind this metaphor in each of these passages is hope. The one who is sleeping will rise again. Indeed, those who have believed in Jesus will be raised to eternal life. So, when a believer dies, we do not need to grieve as the rest who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).