AIR FORCE!

“I only know the names of two angels–Hark and Harold.” Gregory, 5   “Angels talk all the way while they’re flying you up to heaven. The basic message is where you went wrong before you got dead.” Daniel, 7  “Everybody’s got it all wrong. Angels don’t wear halos anymore. I forget why but scientists are working on it. Olive, 7

“Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive.” Superman? No, angels!

Our first encounter–the annual Sunday School Christmas pageant. Our vocabulary is sprinkled with angel talk: angel food cake, angel’s hair, angel’s dust, angel fish, the City of the Angels, the California Angels. 275 Bible references suggest their importance. Let’s brush up on angelology!

These superhuman beings, glorious and terrible, share God’s joy when sinners repent and wipe out a third of the earth’s population near the end of time. They join with the archangel Michael in warring with the dragon and his angels, some of whom are in chains (Jude 6) but most on the loose. Not bound by time or space as earthbound creatures, one moment before the throne, the next moment announcing the birth of God’s Son, they travel faster than the speed of light. Are they omnipresent? No, but they can get there a lot quicker than we can. Are they all-knowing? No, but they know many things we don’t. They are the army of God. Scripture says that when the announcement to the shepherds was finished, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared” in a chorus of praise (Luke 2:13). The word “host” means “army.” The “Lord of hosts” is the General of the heavenly army. 

If heaven includes an innumerable company, any one of which could clean up on the US Marines in seconds, you begin to appreciate the awesome power of these amazing creatures—hardly the Christmas pageant variety. One can also understand that when an angel appeared to Zechariah, “he was startled and was gripped with fear” (Luke 1:12), a common response to a visit from an angel. We have emasculated these glorious creatures, genderless but not powerless.  These immortal beings serve God and help in the administration of His universe.They figure prominently in the Old Testament, often as instruments of judgment. They destroyed Sodom and rescued Lot. An angel led Israel through the wilderness and gave them the law. One angel demolished the Assyrian army of 185,000 soldiers. An angel saved Daniel from the lions. God allowed Elisha to see an invisible host of fighters. Angels paid visits to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David, Elijah, Zechariah, Joseph, Mary and Peter. 

Angels appeared to Jesus at important points. He spoke often about them, indicating that little children have guardian angels (maybe adults, too), that angels cannot die, that they will separate the righteous from the wicked on the final day. They dictated the last book of the Bible to John, and they play a prominent role in it. They are used in answering the prayers of the saints. An angel will bind Satan near the end of history. These servants of God will return with Jesus in flaming fire. Hell will be populated to a large extent by the devil and his fallen angels, as heaven is inhabited by an innumerable host of angels. 

They do not originate any plans; they carry out God’s. They do not marry or procreate. The Apostle Paul says, “In him (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities…” (Col. 1:16). God’s creation includes a realm on earth where visible beings exist and a heavenly sphere invisible to us. Angels appear to have ranks, just as armies do. The book of Daniel tells us that the archangel Michael serves as the prince of Israel, overseeing its affairs and standing in defiance of powers arrayed against it. 

Satan, formerly Lucifer, apparently chief-of-staff in Yahweh’s army, imitated God’s pattern of government when he was thrown out of heaven. There exists a great ongoing cosmic conflict, not star wars, but angel wars, not World War III but a titanic struggle of far greater magnitude and with much more at stake—the armies of God and Satan in constant battle over the lives of people on earth, the planet visited by a Babe. St. Paul tells us mortals that “we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Destinies of nations are in the heavens, not ultimately in legislative assemblies or on thrones or in an oval office.

Heaven was never more excited than with the birth of God’s Son. Now they wait for the next big day, the return and the marriage of that Son, the desire of the ages. They are not given the full picture. They love probing the depths of the Gospel to find further clues of God’s outrageous love for humans (I Pe. 1:12). They will never call God Father as the redeemed are privileged to. Jesus did not become an angel. He was born into the race of humans to rescue us from the clutches of an angel once close to God. The Child came, according to John, “to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8). 

Gabriel (“God is my strength”) appeared to Mary in Nazareth to announce how God was going to use her to activate this plan. The visit proved more pleasant than the one five months before in Judea with a doubting priest. An unnamed angel appeared to Joseph in a dream to give him the go-ahead with his betrothed. The star that led the wise men to the Child could very well have been an angel ((Jude 13, Rev 1:16, Rev. 9:1, 12:4). When they left, “an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream” to save Jesus from the slaughter of infants by Herod. When he died, an angel guided the family back to Israel. And yet another dream (and perhaps an angel) warned Joseph not to live in Judea. How remarkable are these servants of God, who figure often in stories surrounding births, and especially in the birth of the ages. How reverently they carry out the will of the Most High God.  9-1-1 prayers are often answered by angels.

The mysterious invisible realm is no less real than the visible realm. Ceaseless activity of good and evil surrounds us and is only apprehended through faith. We focus on what they focus on, the God of glory and the Lamb! May we join them in giving praise to the Savior of the world, and may we, like these ministering spirits, serve as dutifully and as accurately as they. And maybe you, like the servant of Elisha, will at some time have your eyes opened to see one or more of them!

HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, KAREN!

May 8, 2022

So why should I write you a letter?  You are not my mother. Because you are the mother of six precious and wonderful children that we are fortunate to stay connected to. I am blessing you on this special day for the following reasons:

1  YOU BROUGHT SEVEN CHILDREN INTO THE WORLD.

Sadly, we could not get to know Karsten. We have to wait for eternity to meet him. But we carry the memory in our hearts. We held him briefly–and we will meet him at the renewal of all things. Then he can get to know his whole family.

2  YOU WERE BRAVE TO HAVE THREE MORE CHILDREN AFTER LOSING KARSTEN.

Call it courage. You could have thought, “I could not bear for that to happen again. I cannot take any chances.” Instead you trusted God after we had Andrew, Naomi, and Gabriel. And along came Erikka, Israel, and Karis, all big babies and more pain–and exponentially more joy. How did you do that? God must have so healed you that you could embrace hope in place of despair–and your family thanks you for being confident in God.

3  YOU CONTINUE TO BE A MOTHER–AS A GRAND MOTHER.

We all know how gifted you are, especially with the really young ones.  You love being of help. You will drop anything to support your children and grandchildren. You don’t tire of caring for the little ones. And you do it so well! Your reputation stays with you!

4  YOU CARE FOR YOUR MOTHER.

Your willingness to keep Margaret with us enables her to see her children in or around this special day, plus grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What a gift you are presenting to her. We all know that it is not easy. She is fading just a bit. And yet day after day you do what you need to do to keep her happy and somewhat healthy. She thanks you now, but she will probably thank you more in eternity–after she meets up with Phil. Your care enables her to live a somewhat active life, going to church and to the homes of our children. What a gift. I think it is one of the reasons she is continuing to live. She certainly has something to live for!

5  YOU BLESS OTHER MOTHERS.

When I see you leading the Sunday morning prayer time with eight or so women, I am proud of you for the way you conduct that time. It is clear to all of them that you care about them and their families and care about the Scriptures. You are a wonderful example to them in the way that you honor the Word of God and in the way you pray for them and their needs!

6  YOU LOVE THE WORD OF GOD AND READ IT DAILY.

I am often blessed by the Scriptures you share with me. It is not yesterday’s food. It is always current and fresh. You are and have always been an example to your children of someone who loves God and stands under His Word. It is your daily diet!

Your happy and proud husband.  Thankful for you!  Paul

I BELIEVE IN DEMONS!

Jesus majored in deliverance:  “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (I John 3:8b).  He never sent out the twelve or the seventy without commissioning them to deal with demons. Then why is there little deliverance ministry today? 

1.  There are fewer demons around today? The presence of Christianity to some degree suppresses the activity of demons. But the growth of occult practices and astrology in western countries suggest that we are infested with demons. We see the advertisements, “A zodiac mug with a tank of gasoline.”  Eastern mysticism has been popular on campuses for decades.  Progress has not dealt with principalities and powers of darkness, as if they are not as effective because we are a high-tech society.  We are less armed because we can detect viruses but not demons.

2.  There are as many demons, but they are less active? Not likely. Paul said that “in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons…” (I Timothy 4:1).  Demons know their time is short, so  their activity is likely increasing.  It is a misconception that only bad people are demonized.  Jesus delivered people from demons more in synagogues than slums. 

3.  We are cautious about a ministry we know so little about?   We have heard stories about demons manifesting in weird ways.  Like one pastor said, “It’s no fun to be God’s garbage collector.”  Maybe we have shied away from this ministry because we don’t want it.  Our passive response manifests lack of love toward the oppressed.  

Perhaps

1.  people we have prayed for or counseled were not healed because they needed deliverance.

2.  “the devil made me do it” theology has more truth to it than we have acknowledged.  Sin is both choice and bondage.  People in bondage need help to escape.  

3.  we have been more like the scribes than like Jesus, finding it easier to talk and teach than to do.  What set Jesus off from the religious leaders of the day was his authority over sickness and dark spirits.

Consider these truths::

1.  We are at war, and it is not with flesh and blood.  Paul writes that “we are not ignorant of his (Satan’s) designs” (2 Corinthians 2:11).  Ignorance would allow him to gain an advantage over us.   If we pose little threat to Satan because we are unaware of his sinister activity, demons are all the more free to carry out the orders from headquarters to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10a). If we are only responding to the physical world, we are missing the mark and losing the war.  One really sad aspect of war is the casualties among those not even engaged in the war.  We know that Christians can be oppressed by the forces of darkness, and casualties abound.  We are told to resist the devil, but if we don’t know how demons operate, we won’t be able to defeat them.  Sin is not just a decision; it is a personality (Ro 6:16).  

2.  Jesus’ worldview included a world devastated by the enemy.  Jesus believed in the reality of the demonic world, and it affected how he ministered to people.  He came on the scene to take back what had been ravaged by Satan. He declared war on the kingdom of darkness, and everything he said and did was a direct hit on the enemy forces. Our culture has domesticated the demonic, and it has impacted how the church interacts with demons.  We have mascots on sports teams called the Red Devils.  We have kids dress up as underworld creatures for Halloween.  We play games that include the powers of darkness in ways that make them playful.  We hear people say in a cute fashion to a child, “You little devil.”  If demons are responsible for much of the sickness, torment, misery, and mental disorders in the world today, then it behooves us to grow in our understanding of how they attack, so that we can defend ourselves and deliver those who are casualties.  Demons are anything but harmless cartoon characters.  They have absolutely no sense of decency, fairness, or cleanliness.  They are foul, obscene, perverted, and grotesque, totally outside any boundaries of human kindness. The worst criminal we have ever heard about does not begin to compare with these fiends of the underworld.  The only rule they operate with is to destroy humans by any means in their power. 

COUNSEL FOR CHRISTIANS & CHURCH LEADERS

1.  Speak about the devil and demons.  Let people know that they are out to get us, and that is not paranoia.  Train people for deliverance ministry. 

2.  Bring deliverance to the demonized. Jesus’ presence caused demons to manifest themselves, and when they did, Jesus brought deliverance.  He did not try to shield the demonized from the public Because we don’t yet move in the same authority, we may need to find quiet places for ministry.

3.  Become more aggressive in the fight against the kingdom of darkness.  Alert Christians to their authority in Christ. Be ready to deal with demons.  Divine action elicits demonic reaction. Jesus was known by demons as a destroyer. Demons were a threat to people, but Jesus was a threat to demons.  

4.  Let people know how demons enter.  They come either by inactivity (non-resistance) or by choice.  Some say yes to the enemy in order to gain power. Judas said yes to gain money.  Prolonged sin can bring people into bondage.  Paul tells us that we become slaves to whomever we obey (Romans 6:16).  Traumatic experiences, like sexual or physical abuse, can open the way for the demonic.  Chronic problems can wear down our defenses and leave room for invasion, such as living with an alcoholic or an abuser.  Unforgiveness in an ongoing way can cause us to be turned over to tormentors (Matthew 18:34).  Ancestral sin can bring inherited weakness and vulnerability to Satan and demons.

5.  Remind people that Satan has a one-way ticket to hell.  He knows his destiny.  As a friend of mine says, “When he reminds us of our past, we need to remind him of his future.”  When God is done using him for divine purposes, He will consign Satan to the pit.  Satan is neither omniscient nor omnipresent.  He is not smart enough to deceive the Christian walking in the Spirit. 

6.  Teach people that to resist the light is to vote for the darkness.  Satan knows those who are voting for him, and he will not leave them alone.  It is a foolish thing to walk in the world of spirits unarmed, and yet ignorant Christians do it.  They are inviting the forces of the enemy to invade them and their homes.  Sadly, innocent children can become prey of the devil because of the folly of parents.

7.  Help people detect the possible assault of the enemy.  Involuntary action or compulsive behavior (longstanding lust, perversion, lying, suicide attempts) or overwhelming emotions (depression, hatred, or unforgiveness), might indicate demonic activity.  Cultic or occult activity, a disturbed family history, or chronic family sickness may also be traced back to demonic roots, as well as extremes–like extreme legalism or license.  Garbage attracts rats (demons).  The unwillingness or the inability to deal with garbage (unforgiveness, resentment, hostility, anger)` is an invitation for the rats to hang around.  8.  The cross of Jesus spelled the ultimate defeat of the devil.  Jesus said on his way to Calvary, “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).

WILL I SEE MY DOG IN HEAVEN?

            

I have a problem. I am too much in this world and not enough in the next. It concerns me because Paul said that “all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8) will receive a special crown. I’m competitive. I enjoy competing when I know there’s something to go for. So did Paul. He spoke of pressing “on toward the goal to win the prize” (Philippians 3:14).  And this baffles me. The incentives that are held out in the whole package of heaven have not grabbed my attention as much as they should.

They did for my grandmother. She had her bags packed. And when we were two days from a special vacation, Karis, then six, said, “I’m so excited.” I asked her, “Is this the most fun thing you will ever do, go on a plane, then a boat.” She answered, “No.” “Then what is?”  Without a pause, “Going to heaven.” We had talked about heaven with our kids after losing our third child at birth, and it caught her imagination. Notice the age. Young children dream about heaven and old people think about it, because they are going there soon. Not enough of the rest of us. Like one teenager said, “Heaven’s a nice place, but nobody is in a rush to get there.” We’ve heard people say: “I’d like to raise a family first,” or “I hope Jesus doesn’t return before I take my trip to Scandinavia,” as if to say, “Heaven’s all right, but so is this life.”

We operate between two worlds, as different as spam and steak. In Christ I am free—sort of. I’m a conqueror, in fact, more than a conqueror, but often my experience tells me that I’m anything but. We find ourselves on the way, not there. I am seated in the heavenlies, but I’m also seated in a folding chair. The truth is: we’re not home yet. And home can have a surreal outlook to it. Some need to be convinced. Tell a teenager that heaven is like a wonderful worship service, only extended for centuries, and he might say, “Great, and do I get to play a harp? Can you show me to my cloud?” Culture’s caricature has overtaken us. Nothing to do but sing and take walks on golden streets. Boring! We need to discover what the new earth will really be. 

Jesus told His disciples, “At the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones…” (Matthew 19:28). The word “renewal” literally means rebirth or new birth. The earth was born once in the beginning, and it will be born again. Far from escaping out of the earth, we are occupying the earth as our eternal home. At the end of the story  we are back to the beginning, because God is the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 21:6). The end interprets the beginning, but the beginning also interprets the end. You can look to the last chapter to see how the story ends, but you have a clue to the end by reading the beginning. We start with a good earth—and we end there. Instead of us going to heaven out there, heaven is coming down! 

We have had some wrong ideas about the hereafter. We have over-spiritualized it, making heaven remote and less appealing. It is the work of demons to portray the physical realm as unspiritual (I Tim. 4:3,4). We are biblical Christians, not eastern mystics. We say in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” and in the new earth we will have physical bodies. We are not spirits floating around in space. As Randy Alcorn, author of the excellent book Heaven says, “The earth matters, our bodies matter, animals and trees matter, matter matters” (p. 85). Make heaven other-worldly and it loses its fascination. I remember reading with disappointment about streets of gold and pearly gates. It didn’t grab me. 

After Jesus returns, the earth will experience an eternal makeover. In fact, we won’t go to heaven—heaven will come to us (Revelation 21:2,3). It will be more physical than we have thought. Two examples.  Our daughter, Karis, enjoying a delicious meal on our deck one summer evening, said, “I sure hope there’s food in heaven.” If we think that we are spiritual beings, we won’t expect food. But it sure sounds like we’ll be eating. Jesus said at his Last Supper, “I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 22:16). He had “The Last Breakfast” with His disciples after his resurrection in a body that could walk through walls but could be touched. We are promised a wedding supper to kick things off, and I can’t imagine a celebration meal without food. Isaiah tells us that the best cook is God: “On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine—the best of meats and the finest of wines…He will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:6,8).

So you can count on food, Karis, but not jello with carrots in it. It was never intended that jello should have carrots in it, and I received this prophetic word, “Yea verily, thou who hast contended with green jello and shredded carrots, thou shalt contend no longer. For lo, it shall not be found in the new earth, neither shall anyone make it henceforth.” I am not sure about coffee, but we will “drink from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6).

What about animals? God sure put a lot of them on the earth. When He affirmed that creation was “very good,” that included the animals. And listen to this word about the future: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).  Sounds like the new earth includes animals. Picture Jesus showing you around the mansion he has prepared for you. Then that special pet you loved and had a funeral for when she died runs up and gives you a friendly lick. It would be just like an extravagantly loving God to let us once again care for the pets we enjoyed in this life. My good friend Pastor Drex Morton told me that his father had three visions just before he died, one of which was of his long since dead cat Beauregard! Sounds like God to me (even though most cats have a tougher time repenting than dogs!).

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE RESURRECTED LORD!

Christ has just risen. Whom do you expect him to see? How about showing up at the Sanhedrin? Or to Pilate? That isn’t the way Jesus operates. We learn about Jesus  by seeing the people he meets up with.

MARY MAGDALENE

Christ had cast seven demons out of Mary. Her devotion went beyond helping him in life–she and other women wanted to help him in death. Peter and John saw the empty tomb, and left in a hurry to report. Mary lingered. Jesus comes to her in her sorrow. Disillusioned, she does not even look up when asked why she is weeping. When the stranger calls her name, she knows. She is honored for her devotion by being the first to see the risen Christ. In her grief she is still giving to her Lord. In your sorrow, minister to your Lord even then. He will not disappoint you.

THE OTHER WOMEN

The first two groups to see Jesus are women, the less important of their day. The disciples showed how much they respected them, refusing to believe. They had come to pay homage to the dead–and they ended up worshiping the living Lord. Jesus had much more regard for them than the disciples. It is never in vain to silently serve our Lord.

PETER

Satan had sifted him and he was devastated. High hopes turned to failure. Now the words stung, “You will deny me three times.” And his own words, “I never knew the man.” No chance of recovery; his Lord was dead. He raced to the tomb when the women spoke of meeting angels in hope against hope. Perhaps on his way home the risen Christ appears. Jesus is caring for one of his soldiers, wounded in battle. There is a place for failures in God’s program. Jesus comes not to rebuke but to reinstate. Christ gives hope to this sifting sand–and he becomes a rock. Weeks later Peter boldly proclaims the resurrection against the threat of persecution. Have you failed the Lord? Believe that he comes to you. Angels told the women, “Go tell his disciples and Peter.” He has you on his mind.

EMMAUS DISCIPLES

For two men, the seven-mile trek from Jerusalem to Emmaus was the longest it had ever been. They told the stranger, “We had hoped…” Death buried their longings. Scripture had clearly pointed out the suffering and the glory, but they were conditioned only for the glory road. Guess who’s coming for dinner. They invite the well-informed visitor. At table he blesses the bread, their hearts begin to burn–and he’s gone. He comes–through Word, through sacrament–to chase away gloom and reveal his glory. Believe him in the mystery of his presence–and watch him lift your hopes.

THE DISCIPLES MINUS THOMAS

Evening of the first new day. Christ appeared to Mary, the other women, Peter, and the Emmaus disciples. Ten disciples are still cowering in darkness behind locked doors. They had probably heard that Jesus might be alive, but they did not believe. They were not expecting him, and they sure hoped no one else would show up. Guess who does, right through the locked door. What do you expect from the Lord who had been denied by his own, betrayed, forsaken? Instead of rejection they receive a blessing and a fresh commission: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:21,22). How gracious of Jesus to call scared disciples who had lost their “sent.” No superstars on the Jesus team, only people like us, needy, fearful, doubtful–but now equipped to serve as powerful witnesses.

THE DISCIPLES INCLUDING THOMAS

One week later–same time, same house, same shut door. The still not too confident band gets another appearance from the Lord. This time he heads straight for Thomas. At the last meeting two were missing–one doubting, one dead. Thomas was a slow starter but loyal. Jesus did not commend his unbelief, but he converted it to faith, and Thomas declares powerfully, “My Lord and my God.” How kind of Jesus to pursue us in our darkness when clouds make it difficult to see. Thomas died as did all the disciples except John a martyr’s death.

SEVEN AT THE SEA

Guess who’s coming for breakfast, the third encounter with a group of disciples. They have had a miserable night of fishing. It’s morning. I would not recommend asking dismal fishermen, “Have you caught anything?” Jesus does. Instructions from shore bring a huge catch–153. John recognizes Jesus and Peter swims to shore, where a three-fold question erases the agony of denial. Jesus didn’t need to hear it–Peter did, and Jesus converted his loss to a gain–at the last breakfast!

FIVE HUNDRED

Paul, reviewing the encounters to establish the fact of the risen Christ, says that “he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are alive, though some have fallen asleep” (I Cor.15:5). Marching orders. He will conduct a world-wide campaign from heaven. Either Jesus is dreaming, or this group is going to disciple the nations!

JAMES

Paul alone tells of an encounter between Jesus and the one he grew up with. They had lived under the same roof, “but his own received him not” (John 7:5). It took a personal appearance from Jesus, now a conqueror of death, to bring James to accepting the authority of the One he knew well. This pillar died a martyr’s death proclaiming his brother as his Lord!

THE APOSTLES AT ASCENSION DAY

In the final commissioning, Jesus reminds the apostles of the scope of the mission (the work), the nature of the call (be witnesses), and the promise of equipment (the Holy Spirit). Then he left. Read the book of Acts. They proclaimed the resurrection with authority. It worked. He was not a dead memory but a living, exalted Lord. His address changed from Nazareth to the Right Hand!

PAUL

After rehearsing Christ’s encounters as proof that he rose, Paul concluded, “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am” (I Corinthians 15:8-10). Do you know any people for whom you pray but find it difficult to see them in the kingdom? God’s power is greater than our doubt. He can take the hardest pagan and make him or her the softest sheep on his flock.

ME

But I say, “Last of all, he appeared to me.” Without his grace, I would not be experiencing his love today. He has convinced me that he is alive and Lord over all. I live daily in the joy of his presence. I say with Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives.”

7 HABITS OF ONE SUPREMELY EFFECTIVE PERSON!

The way people die can sometimes tell us how they lived. Jesus died forgiving enemies, redeeming a thief, caring for his mother, overcoming the darkness, confessing human need, finishing His assignment, and trusting His Father in death.  What a way to die! What a way to live.

FATHER, FORGIVE THEM, FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO. 

“Yes they do, Jesus.  They’re killing you, an innocent man. Why aren’t you angry?”  It’s hard to forgive, especially when it’s unjust, like when a young man who was homeless and stayed at my home ripped me off when he left. Jesus really got ripped off!! 

When East Germany asked forgiveness of Israel, they responded, “The shame of the action cannot be removed.”  But Corrie ten Boom managed to forgive a guard who showed up at one of her meetings. She had gotten ripped–her sister Betsy died in prison. “Father, forgive them…” No more gracious words were ever uttered. They were given on behalf of His killers. They had heard foul messages coming from crucified ones—never like this. 

TODAY YOU SHALL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE.

Jesus was getting ridiculed from every direction. Even the two thieves joined in (Mark 15:32). But then one told the other, “We deserve what we are getting (conviction), but he has done nothing wrong” (revelation). First came the deep awareness of his own guilt. He was not a victim of Roman imperialism; he was a guilty sinner. He was getting what he deserved. How kind of Jesus to do evangelism in his darkest hour. Salvation is extended to a criminal, who has nothing to contribute before passing into eternity.  He will still shine with the stars of heaven, and he will praise the blood of the Lamb.  Better people will go to hell because of their refusal to do what he did.

Listen to his request: “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In eight words he acknowledged that the Man next to him had the power to forgive, was a king, had a kingdom, and was going to defy death and go there. What revelation!  Imagine Peter asking him at the gate, “How can you come in?  You’re a thief.”  He would respond, “Jesus said I could.”  “Really? When?”  “A little while ago.”  At his dying moment he took more than he had ever taken as a criminal—eternal salvation.  We will meet him in heaven, thanks to Jesus.  One blasphemed–the other believed. What a difference for eternity. Wouldn’t you like to share the Good News with some unlikely person like that?  Such simple faith: “Remember me…” And what a response:  “Today…”

WOMAN, BEHOLD YOUR SON.  BEHOLD, YOUR MOTHER!

In times of pain, we tend to think of ourselves first. Jesus is thinking about the people who are killing him, the robber next to him,  the mother below him. The word of Simeon was being fulfilled; a sword was piercing her heart, even as a sword would soon pierce his side. The unique Son of God was also the son of Mary, her firstborn. That meant that in the absence of Joseph he took responsibility for her care. With younger brothers who were skeptics, Jesus put his mother into the capable hands of his beloved friend John! Such care!

MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?

Jesus was a reject from the get-go, a humiliating birth out back of a motel.The whole country knew he was illegitimate. His parents were on the poor side. He was an itinerant preacher, an embarrassment to his mother and brothers. The hometown folks sort of accepted him, until he preached his first sermon.  Then they tried to throw him over a cliff.  Hardly a welcome.  “He came to his own and his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).  “He was despised and rejected by men…” (Isaiah 53:3).  The rejection continued at the trials.  He knew it was going to happen. He had told the disciples that “the Son of man (would) suffer many things and be rejected by the elders…” (Matthew 16:21). But by far the worst had to be when God rejected him. He had never known even the slightest moment of separation.  Now he is condemned, even as scripture says:  “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deuteronomy 21:23).  He had only known God’s favor.  Now he feels the curse. “He who knew no sin became sin for us…” (2 Cor. 5:21). Separated–that we who trust in Him would never be.

Jesus knew when the fight escalated in intensity. God poured the sins of humanity into the body of the spotless Lamb of God. He became the trash dump of the human race. This is the cup He knew He had to drink. He was now bearing sin in his own body, the receptacle of unredeemed humanity’s bad choices. Putrifying. The foul stench of rebellion.  The sun acknowledged the battle and shut down. Hand-to-hand combat with the powers of darkness.  The Lord lays on Him the iniquity of us all, the most violent laying on of hands. Jesus is being “stricken, smitten by God and afflicted.”  The Father is beating up His own Son, who feels the agony and cries out, not to His Father, but to God.  No darker hour exists in human history.  No place is He more a representative of a fallen race.  His cry, “My God, my God, why…,” is the most wrenching prayer of the universe.  Unspeakable horror, undiminished shame.  Jesus paid a high price for our sin.  Consider it the next time you think Jesus doesn’t care, or when you feel the need to indulge yourself.  No one understands suffering like Jesus.  What great sorrow!  What extravagant love!

I THIRST.

It wasn’t until He looked to the needs of others that He said, “I am thirsty.”  He dealt with the thief’s thirst for salvation before He asked for a drink.  He drank when all things were accomplished. In the heat of battle, one does not yell, “Time out.”  That Jesus now confesses thirst is not only a sign of thirst.  It indicates that the battle is over.  And He said it in fulfillment of scripture.  At no point did Jesus ever lose control.  Caiaphas did—and tore his robes in anger.  Peter did—and swore his denial of having ever known Jesus.  Pilate did—and tried to wash a guilty conscience away with water.  The crowd did—and shouted, “Crucify him,” like bloodthirsty dogs tearing at their victim.  But Jesus, the victim, never lost it.  He knew what was happening all the time and what He needed to do.  History was on schedule.  The king was about to be crowned.  And He said, “I thirst.”  He was the Son of God and Son of Man.  His confession of need encourages me to be human, to be honest about my needs, and especially my desperate need for God.

The one who created Niagara Falls, who made the lakes high in the Rockies, is now dehydrated.  He had given a drink of living water to a guilt-ridden Samaritan woman. He had been preparing through suffering to give eternal water to the thirsty, and now He grows thirsty in the process.  He had poured out His soul to death.  He deserved to be thirsty. He had just cried out, “My God, my God.”  That was the most awful exposure to the elements of darkness without the help of God. But He was also facing physical exposure.  The soldier understood Him and gave Him some of the sour wine, cheap stuff given to soldiers as part of their rations.  Earlier it had been offered to Jesus and He had refused it.  Why now?  Because He was about to die and His work was over.  He did not want to be drugged earlier, because He chose to be in full awareness of what He was doing.  He needed to “taste death for everyone.”  Receiving the wine, He gained sufficient strength to say… 

IT IS FINISHED.

He didn’t say, “I am finished.”  He didn’t die a victim but a victor.  He completed it all.  That means that there is nothing left for you and me to do. Jesus plus…nothing! “There is therefore now no condemnation…” (Romans 8:1).  He accomplished it all single-handedly.  It had started at the dawn of creation.  Satan, who had led a mutiny in heaven, then convinced Adam and Eve to rebel.  The devil wounded the heel of Jesus, but Jesus stepped on his head.  Everything on the other side of the cross would be the mop-up campaign.  Heaven must be rejoicing. This is why He left—not to preach or to heal but to die. He had accomplished His mission. He was able to tell His Father in faith the eve before His death, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do” (John 17:4). What do we add to the cross?  Our good efforts?  Our church attendance?  Our zeal?  Our devotions? Our tithe?  Nothing. Our salvation in Jesus Christ is the cross plus nothing. We have amassed a great debt, but it has been paid in full.  We too can say thankfully with Christ, “It is finished.”  

FATHER, IN YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.

He ended as He started, praying to His Father.  The Father must be so pleased.  The Son will soon be coming home. He has always rested in His Father.  Now He entrusts His spirit in death.  He believed the Father to raise Him up again.  Jesus chooses to die.  He yields up His Spirit, almost like a child praying tenderly. The 3lst Psalm was one of the first psalms Jewish children memorized.  Jesus was saying His closing prayer, quoting from that Psalm.  This was the third time He quoted Scripture from the cross, as He walked through the valley of the shadow of death, like a man on a mission. He came to die–and now He does. God is conforming His children into the image of Christ.  The Father would teach us to live–as Jesus died.

FATHER, FORGIVE THEM (part 2)

The Father is speaking to the dying thief.  A transaction is about to take place. He then says, “Jesus (calling him by name), remember me when you come into your kingdom” (42). The words of forgiveness from Jesus broke through his hard heart and softened him and opened the door to revelation. Not only is this man innocent, but he is truly a king, and he will overcome death and take his kingdom as royalty. He asks Jesus to remember him when that happens. He is about to experience salvation in the last hours of his life. There is no time to change his ways and order his steps rightly. Still he is bypassing hell and going straight to paradise, where he will again meet up with Jesus this same day!  A phenomenal interaction a few hours before the two men die. His eternal destiny just took a massive change!

Neither one will be struggling before long. Jesus will have won a glorious and absolutely astounding victory, and a former thief is tasting of it just before he steps over into eternity. No chance for reformation of his character on this side. No opportunity to return what he had stolen. Hardly even a chance to say, “I will never do it again–I promise.”  But the Judge of all the earth declares him not guilty, and we will meet him in the new earth, along with millions of other forgiven sinners who were marked with the atoning blood of Christ, the blood that flowed from his arms, his head, his face, his back, his feet. Jesus is going to die with no bitterness, no hatred, no regret, no unforgiveness, and he is going to take a former thief with him to paradise.

Because the first word, “Father, forgive,” was heard and took root in a criminal’s softened soul, Jesus followed with a second word: “Today…”, . The thief could no longer argue his defense or lie about all he stole. He said a simple prayer to the Son of God that revealed a broken heart and an awareness of who was dying next to him. I look forward to talking with that thief, who was reformed a few hours before he transitioned from the end of life to eternal life. He met up with Jesus later that day! Sounds like a great place to connect after dying next to each other on a Roman cross.  Remarkable! Jesus said, “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” A despicable thief was washed clean by the blood of Jesus and saw him soon after death.

Allow it to take root in your heart as well. Let what Jesus did to give you courage to do two things: confess your sins with honesty before God and those close to you, and forgive others who don’t deserve it, who recklessly hurt you without offering a word of explanation, who even forget that they did anything wrong to you, who made excuses and alibis instead of repentance. If Jesus can do that under excruciating pain and spiritual anguish, you and I can be given grace to do it for issues with far less injustice, far less hatred, far less cruelty. What would dare hold us back when we see the Lamb of God beaten to a bloody pulp freely forgiving those who brought him to a terribly painful death one beating at a time? What an atrocity! An unsurpassed crime!  What love! What powerful forgiveness. It turned a guilty thief into a heaven-bound saint–in moments. Such is the power of forgiveness. Let no one look at the travesty of the cross, the absolute worst crime of all history, then choose not to forgive someone for an infinitely less offense. It is the difference between two cents and two million dollars. Hear it once again, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Thank you Jesus for your forgiveness. In receiving it, I am given the strength to forgive others–fully, unconditionally.

Two supremely kind words from the cross, first blanket forgiveness to people who do not deserve it and won’t accept it, and second, a promise to a hardened criminal whose heart was transformed by Christ’s offer of forgiveness. His first word did nothing for the religious leaders or hardened soldiers, who continued their assault, but it broke into the heart of a convicted criminal just before death.

THE HEALING POWER OF THE CROSS!

The world views strength as conquest.  God’s power is shown in surrender.  Jesus said, “I have power to lay down my life.” Nowhere is God’s power shown more clearly than in the cross, portrayed graphically by Isaiah seven hundred years before. The prophet writes that “he had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering” (Isaiah 53:2,3).  Far from being attractive or domineering, he was an insignificant “root out of dry ground” (2).  The prophet shows us three ways that the slain Lamb demonstrates might, the kind the world knows nothing about.

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SIN.  Some may say, “We don’t need healing; we need forgiveness.” Jesus said to the Pharisees:  “They that are well have no need of a physician but they that are sick.”  Sin is a sickness. But “there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul,” like the song goes. For “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).  Thankfully, the cross brings healing not only from the penalty of sin but also from the power. Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.” In those words she experienced the acceptance of grace.  It gave her power to receive the truth:  “Go and sin no more.”  “He breaks the power of canceled sin, He sets the prisoner free.”  That power is found in the cross.

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SORROW.   We have sinned, and we have been sinned against.  The devastating work of sin has brought untold sorrow.  A man abandons his family, leaving a wife and children to cope. Another hopes for a promotion and is terminated unjustly after thirty years of service. Jesus heals shattered hearts.  His hometown sermon was taken from Isaiah 61:  “He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…” (1).  He did that through the cross:  “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows…” (Isaiah 53:4a).  He can give us a “crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Isaiah 61:3). People who have walked with deep grief may say, “Impossible.”  But that power comes from the cross.

THE CROSS BRINGS HEALING FROM SICKNESS.  Matthew was a reject like Jesus, but of a different kind; he collected taxes. Jesus made the right choice in calling him. Years later, Matthew painted one of the most beautiful portraits of Christ ever penned.  When Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law, Matthew thought back on the day, adding these words:  “This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:  ‘He took up our infirmities and carried our diseases’” (Matthew 8:17). I find no greater reason to pray for the sick than this, that when Jesus died, He carried not only our sins and sorrows but our sicknesses as well. May you know the power of the cross in your life—today!

MARKS OF A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP

On a scale of ten to one, how would you rate your relationships?  I once asked church leaders in California how they’d rate their church.  Most elders gave it a seven; I would have said four. I am sometimes humored when I ask couples how it’s going.  He says, “Fine;” she answers, “Struggling.”  She’s not smiling.  Doctors diagnose to determine physical health.  Here are clues to relational wholeness:

SPEAKING TRUTH TO ONE ANOTHER.  

Dysfunctional systems major in pretense.  “Honesty is the best policy,” but insecure people don’t want it. Pretending overshadows facing hard truth. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” but fragile relationships can’t handle it. Can you?  Can others risk speaking truthfully with you? Not if you’re unhealthy. Have you grown to the place where the truth (light) is not a threat but a promise. “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7). Satan says that if we are honest about our failures, we will be shamed and rejected. John said that we will be loved and forgiven. 

CONFRONTING AND RESOLVING PROBLEMS.  

The Bible lays out processes for peaceful resolution. Some have neither the desire nor the know-how to close books by making the columns balance.  They would rather build up a deficit in the emotional bank account. Tension doesn’t mean that something is wrong; it means that something is happening. But if we learned to treat tension as threatening, we react instead of saying, “My relationship with you is not up for grabs. How can we deal with this misunderstanding?” The light on the dashboard is our friend. It tells us that something is happening in the engine that needs our attention. When a friend in a difficult marriage went to in-law gatherings, he listened to people staying on the surface rather than dealing with painful issues. Unhealthy people avoid confrontation or do it recklessly. You need to have made investments into the relationship if you plan to make a big withdrawal, such as lovingly confronting someone. Otherwise the check bounces.

RESPONDING WITHOUT REACTING.  

People who live by principles more than by the Spirit will tend to return evil for evil.  They want to be even-handed.  People of grace are radical. They return the opposite spirit, responding to God rather than reacting to people.  A Spirit-empowered life is required to overcome evil with good.  Our sense of justice kicks in when insulted, and we may choose to nurse the offense rather than forgiving the offender. Wounded people who hold onto injuries keep getting wounded. Like a sick person with no immune system, they catch everything that comes along. Healthy people have emotional immunity; resentment doesn’t stick to their soul. They don’t have emotional baggage buried deep inside, like hostility or resentment, so they don’t operate out of past hurts. Unhealthy people don’t even know why they are reacting. Healing of the past could free them in the present and enable them to respond  to a spouse rather than continuing in reaction mode. 

SHARPENING EACH OTHER.  

Healthy relationships combine grace and truth in a way that builds us up.  Unhealthy relationships are often filled with sarcasm, dumping, complaining, innuendos.  No investment is being made for the future.  If anything, money is drawn out without new deposits being made. Bankruptcy is not far away.

I once mentioned in the hearing of my daughter Karis, then six, that I was short on money.  She encouraged me to write out a check for some easy cash.  I explained that I had to put money in to draw money out.  Unhealthy people will overdraw and go from crisis to crisis.  They must learn to make good deposits in the lives of others. 

How are you at making good deposits into the account of your spouse? Can you be positive simply for the reason that it builds up your spouse? I did it recently when I thought a suggestion might be more appropriate. Thank God I had a good moment and poured on a few compliments when I considered a correction. Am I glad I did? Karen first texted me a wonderful response, then came into the room choked up by love. If you don’t know what to do, love is probably the answer. Like a great man once said, “Love never fails!” I have failed too many times with good advice. This time I succeeded–with love. I think I’ll try it again!

IF I PERISH, I PERISH!

                                            

King Ahasuerus reigned from India to Ethiopia, 127 provinces. He gave a feast that lasted 180 days. That’s a lot of food. It was followed by another feast lasting a week.  On the 7th day he ordered his seven eunuchs to bring in Queen Vashti, who was giving a feast for the women. She refused. The king burned with anger and asked his seven wise men what should be done. One of them said that she should be forever banished from his presence and the king should choose someone else. Esther, adopted by Mordecai when her parents died, was one of those chosen to be beautified for twelve months. Mordecai checked up on her daily. She won the contest and was made queen in place of Va

One day Mordecai heard about a plan of two eunuchs of the king to assassinate him. He told this to Esther, who passed the plot along to the king. He investigated the matter, found it to be true, and had the men hanged. Meanwhile, a man named Haman rose to a place of prominence next to the king, and people bowed down to him, all except Mordecai, because he was a Jew. Haman in anger decided that all the Jews of the empire should be destroyed. He lied to the king about the Jewish people and said they should be exterminated. He promised to give the king money to help in the destruction. This decree went out to every province. When Mordecai heard of it, he tore his clothes and cried bitterly, as did Jews throughout the kingdom.

Esther sent clothes for Mordecai through one of the eunuchs, but he would not put them on. He sent word back to Esther, showing her the written decree, and telling her that she had to go before the king on behalf of her people. She sent word back that it had been thirty days since she had been before the king, and if she went without being called, her life was in danger. Mordecai sent this message back to her: “Don’t think that because you are in the palace you will escape. If you keep silent, deliverance will come from another place, but you and your house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). Esther replied to Mordecai, “Gather all the Jews in Susa and hold a three-day fast. Don’t eat or drink. I and my young women will do the same. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish” (15,16).

On the third day, Esther put on her royal robes and stood in front of the king’s quarter. When the king saw her, he held out his golden scepter. She approached him and touched the end of the scepter. He asked her what she requested and promised up to half of his kingdom. She requested that the king and Haman come to a feast that day that she has prepared. At the feast the king repeated his promise. She requested that the king come the next day to a feast and she would let him know. Haman left, passed by Mordecai, and despised him for not bowing. He went home rejoicing for the favor he was being shown by Queen Esther two days in a row. But he told his wife, “It means nothing as long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king’s gate” (5:13). She said, “Prepare a gallows 75 feet high and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged on it,” which Haman did. 

That night the king couldn’t sleep. He read through the book of memorable deeds and found how Mordecai had uncovered a plot on his life. He found out that nothing had been done to honor him. It was morning by now, and Haman was coming up the court. So the king asked him, “What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?” Thinking he was the hero, he recommended lavish acclamation through the square with someone proclaiming praises. The king said, “Good. Do this for Mordecai.” Haman had to be the town crier for his enemy, after which he hurried home in shame. His wife said, “Doesn’t look good for you now.”

At that moment the eunuchs arrived to bring him to Esther’s feast. As they were dining, the king again asked the queen about her request. She told him the grief she felt concerning the decree regarding the annihilation of her people. The king asked, “Who has dared to do this?” and she replied, “This wicked Haman!” While the king stepped out to the garden in anger, Haman fell on the couch with Esther, pleading for mercy. The king returned, and it appeared that Haman was assaulting her. He commanded that the gallows prepared for Mordecai be used for him. And the authority that Haman had enjoyed was now given to Mordecai along with a crown and a royal blue robe. He was received in Susa the capital with great cheers.

Esther then pleaded with the king on behalf of her people, the Jews. The king could not reverse his edict but allowed the Jews to arm and defend themself against all who wanted to destroy them. The Jews gained mastery over their enemies and defeated them. The ten sons of Haman were hanged on his gallows. The day that the Jews were to be annihilated that they reversed was turned into a feast day–the Feast of Purim. “Pur” means to cast lots. Lots were cast to crush them, and the reverse took place. Purim this year is March 16! Rejoice with your Jewish friends!