What if Today Happened to You?

Today was a special service at our little mission. There was rejoicing, a time of prayer, and worship of the Most High. While we spent time in prayer specifically for the persecuted church, every part of our service, including the time of fellowship afterwards, was intended to bring honor and glory to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Each person that came today woke up to a dreary, grey, overcast sky and drove in a vehicle in a country that freely allows us to travel. But still we came.

Each person that came today had the privilege of coming to a building where we have freedom to worship as we see fit and not having to hide in a cave, or in the forest, or out on a dreary plain just to worship without fear of being reported to the authorities. But still we entered.

Each person that came today had no thoughts of any news that might or might not be taking place around the world. But still we worshipped.

Each person that came today had the opportunity to have a better understanding of what the persecuted church experiences every day. But still we prayed.

Each person that came today was reminded that there is an eternity to look forward where there will be no sin, no tears, no dying, no fears, and only joy in the presence of the Savior. But still we sang.

Each person that came today heard the truth of Scripture being boldly proclaimed that Jesus Christ alone saves sinners. But still we listened.

Each person that came today left after service to gusts of wind blowing across the parking lot, and a sky that was clearing with beautiful sunshine. But still we left.

Each person that came today read the news this afternoon that while we were worshipping, there were others who were doing the same but who did not go home for the wickedness of the heart of man was made evident as several in a Baptist church in south Texas went out into eternity. But still we grieve.

Tonight and in the coming weeks, there will be much soul-searching by many who go to services. Many parents will have concern for their safety and that of their children. Many will wonder if it is safe to go and worship with other believers, or will more lives come to an end. Many church leaders will face the daunting task of determining what kind of security they believe is necessary to help provide protection for those who come.

Yet, through the difficulty of following the news, these things remain true. The dangers are real. The reasons why this young man chose to kill will remain unanswered because he went out to eternity where he faced God as Judge.

Every day across this world, there are millions of Christ followers who live in danger of being harmed or being killed. Millions understand the risks of coming together knowing that it could be their last week. From places like North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, and many other countries, especially in the 10/40 window, there is the cry of the persecuted church. They are being harmed or killed simply because they have called on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.

BUT still they went, still they entered, still they worshipped, still they prayed, still they sang, still they listened, still they left, and still they grieved.

The world is going to get worse. The Bible promises that this will be the case. Others will die for their faith. Others will have to determine whether dying for Christ is better than living for self. Others will have to decide if they will be bold for Christ and accept the martyr’s crown, or if they will deny the Christ who died for them and so forget that the servant is not above the Master.

What if tomorrow doesn’t take place like you think it will? What if tomorrow you are called to stand before God?

What if today happened to you?

Growing Old With Grace

When I was young, old age never bothered me. In fact, I would be hard pressed to even remember a time when I wondered for a fleeting moment what it would be like to grow old. It was other people that grew old – like grandparents. However, it is amazing what almost five decades will do to one’s perspective.

Yesterday, I was reminded again of the passing of years as someone I really did not know passed away and went to be with the Lord they loved. This individual was quite elderly and known to others I love. This brother in Christ had spent years sharing and teaching the Word of God. Despite being racked at times with pain, the main diseases that was eating him away was not what ultimately took him from this life of toil and pain. He closed his eyes in sleep as his heart gave out and woke up in a place where he would never sleep or be in pain again.

When I heard the news, I was reminded again that time is creeping up on us and flies back so quickly. James put it so succinctly when he said in James 4:14, “Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.”

vapor

As I write this, it is a special day for another reason. Forty-four years ago today, in the cold, wind-swept, bone-chilling landscape of the country of Iceland, a healthy young boy was born. Almost from the first day my brother was brought home from the hospital, he was happy. He was the life of the party and often the clown. Yes, we had our ups and downs, but John David made the most of whatever oppositions got in his way.

In late 1995, John had just left the USAF with an honorable discharge and was making a home for himself in North Carolina. He had found a body of believers that he dearly loved and he had spent time with the men on a retreat where his heart was stirred to be more like the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, all of that changed when he went to work one cold November morning. I received a call that I should meet at the hospital. Arriving, I found out that my brother, who was less than 5 years younger than me had passed away at the young age of 22. He had acquired an infection in his heart and when his heart exploded, he was gone before he hit the floor.

That was 21 years ago. There are still times the pain and loneliness of not hearing his voice or the endless jokes is emotionally difficult. Even back then, we spoke of him lovingly at the funeral and afterwards, but old age was still a long ways off. I didn’t really dwell on the reality that it was still going to come for all who are left to face the world.

Far from this maddening world, my brother no longer has to walk the dark paths of these Shadowlands, as C.S. Lewis called them. John’s path led him to a promotion that is far better than anything he could have experienced in this life. In fact, the moment he crossed from death into life, the joys he would have known would have been crowned by meeting the Lord Jesus Christ face to face. That is not something that any true believer would want to take away from another believer. Yes, we miss those who have gone before us, and we can hope that others will miss us when it comes time for us to depart this life.

However, until it is time for us to close our eyes to sin, death, and the grave, we must focus on living our lives in such a way that we will hear, “Well done, you are a good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of the Lord!” We have no reason to fear the door of death. For the believer, the door is only the opening to the wonders of what eternity holds and the half can never be told this side of heaven.

To me, this world is not really my home. I grow tired of the pain and the struggles that assail the flesh and the heart. If I should be left another 10, 20, or 30 years, I struggle to accept that more illnesses and heartache may well be my lot in life as it has been for much of my life.

inheaven

Each year that passes, I strangely find that growing old is something that did not really sneak up on me. Each year was filled with memories that resonate in my mind and heart. Each memory, whether good or bad or indifferent or sad or happy, was created as I lived the path that God had ordained for me to walk. One day, those memories may be forgotten as I get even older, but it will not diminish what I have been allowed to do by a gracious God who has been more merciful and gracious to me than I have or will ever deserve.

We live from minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, and year to year. The time is precious and should be spent without regrets before the Lord. I do not fear the age I have become, but I welcome it because it puts me closer to the day when I will see the saints who have gone before me. I will see my grandparents, my brother, and friends who loved the Lord as well.

Growing older does have both advantages and disadvantages, but knowing what comes next makes the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages. As believers, we are called to endure this race. Whether we are called to go at a young age or at an elderly age, our race is being encouraged on the sidelines of heaven by the great cloud of witnesses who have gone before us. Therefore, it behooves us to run the race while looking to Jesus Christ alone!

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:1, 2

Worth a Bar of Gold?

Recently I saw a video taken at the Bank of England in which a gentleman had the privilege of being able to view rooms full of real gold. The gold was stacked from floor to ceiling with about 1 ton of gold on each shelf. The narrator commented that the total amount of gold was worth about $315 Billion at current prices and that the total amount of gold ever mined would equal about 60′ cubed. Again, according to the video, this is an amount that would easily fit under the legs of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

While it was a staggering amount of gold, one comment the man made really made me pay attention. He said, “If I was actually worth my weight in gold, I would weigh about the equivalent of 6 bars of gold (28 lbs. each = 164 lbs.). This means I would be worth a little over $4 million dollars.” His next comment was even more astounding – “I was a bit disappointed because I thought I would be worth more.”

goldbars

This brings us to the question of what are we worth. Unfortunately, many have taken the worth of our lives and translated this to something called self-esteem. This is supposedly a term used to indicate that we have intrinsic value within ourselves. The psychology of self-esteem continues to be taught and drummed into our heads and the heads of our children on a daily basis. For example, you go to make a purchase and the salesperson will comment, “You should go ahead and buy this because you are worth it. You owe it to yourself to treat yourself nicely!” Sadly, this then is translated in the church that you should think more highly of yourself because you are worth something to God. Multiple books, videos, seminars, etc., etc., etc., are then offered in our so-called Christian bookstores to feed the same thought process that we are to love ourselves because of our own self-imposed self-worth.

Of course, there are major differences between a human and a bar of gold. From a metallurgical standpoint, a bar of gold is definitely worth more than the elements found in the human body. From a financial perspective, gold has more buying capability as one bar of gold is worth about $768,000. You cannot take 28 lbs of an arm and a leg and make any purchases.

The purpose of this post though is not to dwell on those aspects as much as it is to consider what our worth might be from a spiritual perspective. James 4 makes it clear that our life is actually like a vapor that is here for a short time and then vanishes away. In other words, your life and mine is nothing more than a puff of steam from a kettle filled with boiling water. While down through history, people have bartered their lives away to pay off debts, there was never any guarantee that the life of the individual would even be present at the end of the day. An interesting note was that the oldest bar of gold in the Bank of England is about 96 years old. The narrator noted that gold never changes. It does not go through a process of oxidation. It has no smell and certainly does not rust. That old gold bar looks exactly the same today as it did when it was first minted in 1916.

As much as we are taught to think highly of ourselves and to love ourselves, the sad and very biblical reality is that our lives are not worth what we think they are. This means further that any value attached to us can only be found outside of ourselves.

This is a special time of year in that many are celebrating Xmas, but they are not celebrating Christ. Purchases are being made to satisfy greed and lust, but little to no thought is being made of Christ. “X” is used to indicate an unknown quantity. People today are purchasing what they cannot afford to appease people who will never be happy with money they do not have in order to celebrate what they cannot understand. There is an unknown quantity that is missing in the lives of billions of people around the world – that quantity is not the element AU, more commonly known as gold. This rare element was discovered approximately 5,000 years ago and has been used in a variety of ways down through the centuries.

The element that is missing though is the Lord Jesus Christ. Say what you will about Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or Winter Festival, these are not the original reasons why people celebrated this time of year. While Jesus was not born on December 25 or even in the wintertime, He did lay aside His glory and came to earth to be born in a manger. He left a place that uses gold as street paving material in order that He might be robed in human flesh. But His purpose for coming was not to live, nor was it to make all humans worth their weight in gold. After approximately 33 years, He laid down His life and died for a special group of people, namely, His elect Bride. This was not done because of their intrinsic value, but simply because He chose them from among the children of men. He set His love upon them and upon whosoever will may come. Jesus Christ came to atone for our sins and to suffer the wrath of God the Father on our behalf.

So, while our life may never be worth a bar of gold on this earth, our lives were purchased with the blood of the spotless Lamb of God. In the light of eternity, this means that our value is found in Jesus Christ alone. It has nothing to do with us, and it certainly has nothing to do with the tons of gold that will one day melt away with a fervent heat. What a marvelous thought!

1 Peter 1:18-19, “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

In conclusion, each gold bar that is minted is marked with a specific identification marker so that it cannot be mixed up with any other bars. The identification tag stamped into the gold bar tells exactly how much it weighs down to the 1000th of an ounce. It also tells where it was minted and where it came from. How much more special the thought that each child of the living and thrice-holy God has marked each of us as His own. He has given us a new name and clothed us with the righteousness of Jesus Christ. One day, He will allow the trumpet to be sounded and we will rise to be with Him forever. Heaven will resound with the praises as we sing glory, praise and honor to the Lamb that was slain! Amen and amen!