Thursday, January 31, 2013

He Knows How We Feel

When my son Ryan was just a little guy, he had a favorite blanket that was worn to shreds. My wife, Marilyn, washed it with care because it was so frayed on the edges. We tried to give him a new one, but he loved the old one.

On a trip from our home in Argentina to Brazil, we spent the night in a hotel. The next morning we had breakfast and continued our journey. We drove for several hours and then discovered the special blanket was missing. In an effort to console our distraught, little son, I promised to stop at the hotel on the way back and ask about the blanket. That promise really seemed to calm him down. In reality, I didn’t think there would be much hope of finding the beloved blanket. If anyone saw it, they wouldn’t think twice about tossing the worn-out thing in the trash. On our return to Argentina, Ryan asked often about his blanket. When we finally arrived at the hotel, I inquired if anyone had found a little boy’s blanket. The manager said, “Just a minute,” and returned with a blanket. He informed me that a maid had brought it to him and told him this has great value to someone—so he put it in the safe and waited to see if the owner would return.

I have never forgotten how excited and comforted our little boy was to recover his blanket. Though he was still little, he was experiencing anxiety; however, it helped him to know that we all understood and were concerned about what he was feeling.

There isn’t a person on this planet that doesn’t need that same experience of knowing someone cares. We all want someone to validate our feelings with words like “I know what you are going through” or “I feel for you right now.” It does something for us. Every child needs for her parents to validate her feelings. Every husband or wife needs their spouse to validate their emotions.

There is no one who can do that like Jesus can. He came to this earth and took on a human body so he could validate our human experience. The writer of the book of Hebrews paints a beautiful picture of Jesus as our intercessor going to God on our behalf. He understands and is capable of comprehending our needs because he has experienced them.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:14-17).

We never met the kind maid in the city of Posadas, Argentina who safeguarded Ryan’s blanket because she recognized it was valuable, but I am grateful for people like that. Maybe there haven’t been too many people in your life like this lady, and you feel no one understands your hurt. Let me remind you there is one who does, and his name is Jesus.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Knowing the Evil from the Start

It has been 40 years since the Supreme Court of the United States passed Roe vs. Wade, making abortion on demand the law of the land. Since that infamous day, over 50 million babies have seen their demise at the hand of a cruel abortionist. There are days like this one that I ask myself how did this ever happen? How is it possible, in this land that was founded on principles of liberty and freedom, that the unborn have lost all their rights? The most dangerous place in America today is the womb.

As the Nazis were moving into the Netherlands during the Second World War, a Dutch theologian named Henry Kramer met with a group of Christians. It was a most troubling, dreadful time. These Dutch Christians knew that their Jewish neighbors were disappearing from their homes and businesses. They were there one day, and not the next. “What can we do?” they asked Kramer. Kramer answered, “I cannot tell you what to do,” he said, “but I can tell you who you are. And I know that when you know who you are, you will know what to do.”[i]

Only when we know who we are, can we speak and act according to our beliefs. Only then will we live in congruence with what we value. According to all the surveys, a majority of Americans consider abortion to be wrong. If that is true, then why is Roe vs. Wade still the law, and why does abortion claim over 4000 babies every day? It is because there is incongruence between what people believe is right and their corresponding actions. This became very evident in post-World War II Germany. After the war, there was remorse in Germany. Bitter expressions of regret came from so many Christians as afterwards, they realized their failure only too late. It was a failure to try to stop what they knew was wrong.

One such man was a university professor and a diplomat named Albrecht Haushoffer. He was a quiet, gentle man who wrote poetry in his spare time. As he gradually came to recognize the enormity of the evil of Nazism, he was drawn into the resistance and arrested in 1944 after the failure of the Stauffenburg plot to assassinate Hitler. In the final days of the war, as the Russian tanks moved through the outskirts of the city of Berlin, the dictator hid in his Fuhrer bunker like a rat trapped in his hole.

The SS Guards at the Mobed city prison were given a list of those who were not allowed to survive the downfall of Nazism because they knew too much. Albrecht Haushoffer’s name was included on the list. A group of seven or eight prisoners were taken out of their cells that morning. They were told they were about to be released. Each of the prisoners was assigned an SS Guard and led out to the Tiergarten Park in the city of Berlin. As they came to the middle of that park, out of sight from anyone else, each guard stepped up to his assigned prisoner and shot them in the back of the head. The bodies were abandoned there in the snow and the mud of the ruined city.

Later, Albrecht’s brother heard rumors of what had happened, and he hurried into the park to search for his brother’s body. When he found it, there, clutched in his hand, was a blood-stained sheet of paper. Written on that piece of paper was a poem that Haushoffer had composed just a few hours before his execution.

It was entitled in German, “Schuldig Bin Ich,” “I am Guilty.”  “The burden of my guilt”, the condemned man wrote, “before the law weighs light upon my shoulders, to plot and conspire was my duty to the people. I would have been a criminal had I not. I am guilty, although not in the way you think. I should have done my duty sooner, I was wrong I should have called the evil sooner by its name. I hesitated to condemn for far too long. I now accuse myself within my own heart. I have betrayed my conscience for far too long. I have deceived myself and my fellow man. I knew the course of evil from its start. My warning was not loud enough or clear enough. Today as I die I know what I am guilty of.”[ii] We, too, have known the evil from the start.

[i] Dynamic Preaching, April-May-2001
[ii] Dr. Laurence White, The Sin of Silence, An address delivered September 6, 2000, at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Kansas City, MO

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

God Never Ducks

One of the obsessions of Hollywood is the creation of a Superman. They have been trying to do this since they started making films, and they are still trying. However, the best they can do is only fiction. In the original series, Superman would always have to confront the bad guys. They, of course, in desperation would pull out their guns and fire at him. This only made Superman smirk and throw his chest out because the bullets would simply bounce off his steel torso. However, the producers and actors of the series never realized what they did next until it was pointed out later. When the bad guys ran out of bullets, they would throw their guns at Superman, and he would instinctively duck. Bullets couldn’t hurt him, but when a gun was thrown at him, he ducked. No matter how hard we try to create super-humans, our superman will always duck because we know deep down we are only pretending. There is, however, one person who never has to duck. He is God.

The prophet Isaiah asks us if we have thought about who God is lately, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom” (Isaiah 40:28). Our God is eternal. He is the one who created everything, including us. He never gets tired or becomes vulnerable because of weakness. His omniscient knowledge is so beyond our understanding. There is no enemy, no weapon, no disaster, no interruption nor any kind of problem that will ever cause God to duck. Knowing who God is and how powerful he is changes us. This is why the prophet wrote such eloquent words to describe God’s power and character for us.

Isaiah says God not only never ducks in the face of adversity, but he also gives us power to overcome it. Listen to Isaiah, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:29-30).

Isaiah says this transformation happens for those who put their trust in the Lord. Don’t settle for an imitation Superman. There are plenty of impostors out there, but there is only one omnipotent, and his name is God! He will pick you up and enable you to do what you could not do on your own. Isaiah continues, “They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,” (Isaiah 40:31). Our greatest strength is not accomplishing the impossible; it’s putting our hope in the one who makes all things possible.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

An Offer God Won’t Accept

Many years ago I made a proposal to buy the adjoining property right next to our church in an Argentine city. I talked to the owner, and she expressed interest in selling the land. Sometime later, everything seemed to be in order for the transaction to take place without a hitch. On the appointed day, the owner traveled from a distant city with her accountant and lawyer. I came with another pastor and an accountant and with my down payment in hand. The legal papers were all drawn up. All that lacked were the signatures of the seller and the buyer. Then suddenly, without warning, the lady changed her mind and decided not to sell the property. We asked her why, and she said, “I don’t know why; maybe I’ll need this property later on.” It was upsetting to us, but especially to the pastor who had accompanied me. He pressured the owner to reconsider, but she became more firm in her position. We walked out of the meeting asking ourselves what just happened.

Something similar happened to Moses when he made a proposal to God. Moses put the offer on the table, and everything looked ready, and then without warning, God rejected Moses’ offer. The setting for this happens after Israel sinned by making a golden calf and worshipping it. Moses destroyed the idol and at God’s command eliminated the instigators of this idolatrous orgy. Then Moses said to the people, "You have committed a great sin. But now I will go up to the Lord; perhaps I can make atonement for your sin" (Exodus 32:30).

Moses laid out his offer to God in this way, "Oh, what a great sin these people have committed! They have made themselves gods of gold. But now, please forgive their sin — but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written" (Exodus 32:31-32).

Moses was beginning to understand the concept of atonement. He hoped he could somehow provide substitute atonement for the people. However, God flatly turned Moses’ offer down; The Lord replied to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin" (Exodus 32:33-34). Why did God flatly turn Moses’ offer down?

Moses couldn’t atone for the people’s sin because he himself was a sinner. Though Moses grew to become one of the most exemplary people in the Bible, he was still a sinner. Early on he had murdered a man, and he had a temper. God, however, used Moses’ life to show us more about Jesus. The more we study the Old Testament, the clearer the picture of Jesus becomes.

Philip Ryken provides a good example of understanding the relationship of Moses to Christ. Imagine Moses as an extra who fills in for the star of a movie during the filming process. While the star is off doing more important things, the extra stands in for the star. The techs adjust the lighting, sound and camera so that when the star finally appears and the director is ready to film the movie, everything will be ready. God is the Executive Director who used Moses to teach us about Jesus and his ultimate role as our only savior who alone could atone for our sins. No matter how much Moses wanted to make atonement for the sins of the people, he couldn’t because he was a sinner. That role belonged to the sinless Son of God, who at the right moment in history, when God called for “Action,” would appear and die on the cross for sinners. [1]

[1] Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus, Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL 2005, P. 1016.