Saturday, April 19, 2014

New Church and Easter's Promise

Tomorrow, John and I plan to visit First Baptist Church in Weymouth  to celebrate  Easter, and we hope to discern whether or that will be our new church home. From all we've learned about it so far, we believe it may well be! We're extremely excited!

But the excitement over First Baptist pales in comparison to our joy over Christ's glorious resurrection, knowing that one day He will also raise us up with Him. In that day, we will look into His wonderful Face as we worship with a perfected Church. How exciting!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The On-Purpose Omission

Have you ever noticed that not one of the four gospels offer a  detailed description of Jesus' physical suffering during His actual crucifixion? While they give graphic narrations of the brutal beatings He endured during His illegal trials before The Sanhedrin, Herod and Pilate, they present the physical crucifixion quite simply and matter-of-factly. Even Luke, a physician who found the healings  Jesus performed utterly fascinating and therefore worthy of careful attention, omitted any explanation of the physiological effects Jesus endured as He hung on the cross.

32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”

39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things. ~~Luke 23:32-49 (ESV)

I recently read an article that proffered the idea that, because crucifixions commonly occurred in the First Century, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John saw no reason to explain its mechanics to their immediate readers. This idea may be true in part, but it ignores the Holy Spirit's role in inspiring Scripture. Since, as God, the Holy Spirit is all-knowing, He obviously knew that most people who would read the New Testament in subsequent centuries wouldn't ordinarily understand what death by crucifixion entailed. So, if educating people on the various physical tortures Jesus went through on the  Cross had been necessary, He surely would have inspired  at least Luke to include a description.

The four gospel writers, however, concentrate primarily on  Jesus' spiritual agony, and in particular His anguish of being separated from His Father as He bore His Father's wrathful judgment of our sins. For example, consider the narrative of Mark (who usually favored describing Jesus' actions over contemplating His emotions):

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”~~Mark 15:33-39  (ESV)

The Holy Spirit,  in inspiring the four evangelists to recount the crucifixion, emphasized the spiritual suffering of  Jesus.  He wanted us to see that Jesus separation from His Father results in our admission into God's presence! That emphasis turns Jesus' worst day into our Good Friday.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

I Certianly WILL Take It Personally

As  we approach tomorrow's Good Friday observance, perhaps we ought to  take it personally. Yes, Jesus died for His Church collectively, but He also died for each individual member of His Church. I certainly praise Him for shedding His precious blood on my behalf.

When I stand before the Lord's Judgment Throne, I won't rely on  my local church affiliations, my history of ministry work, or even my study of Scripture for my justification. In dying for me, Jesus provided both the only defense I need and the only defense His Father can rightly accept. And what could be more personal?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Why Of Our "Who Cares?"

Jesus died for our sins.

We say it almost by rote, and usually (if I can be honest) with a sense of emotional detachment. We may be intellectually convinced that Jesus hung on the Cross to ensure that we would enjoy God's forgiveness, and we may even occasionally experience emotions of gratitude for His sacrifice. But for the most part, His crucifixion has  very little impact on how we conduct our day-to-day lives. We file it away as essential doctrine, and go merrily along with our various activities resting in the security that we know our basic catechism.

This lack of personal connection with the Cross doesn't necessarily indicate that we fail to understand the extent of the Lord's sufferings. Mel Gibson's 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, made sure most evangelicals witnessed as many gory details of crucifixion as Mel could possibly film. And before that A Physician Analyzes The Crucifixion by Dr. C. Truman Davis spelled out all the physical agonies Christ endured, beginning with His sweating blood at Gethsemane. Therefore, we can't blame our indifference to the Cross on ignorance.

The callousness ultimately results from our unwillingness to recognize the excruciating reality of our sin. Yeah, we know we've "fallen short of the glory of God." We may even admit, when pushed, that we've broken a few of His commandments. But how many of us really see ourselves as despicable sinners who deserve nothing but God's wrath?

Our pride causes our inability to truly comprehend Christ's accomplishment on the Cross. Until the Holy Spirit opens our understanding to the depths of our depravity, we possess no power to appreciate the way our sinless Lord endured the torments of hell that rightfully belong to us. We might give a vague acknowledgment that Jesus died for our sins, but we need to truthfully confront the horrible depth and power of the sin that permeates our lives.

Once we own our sin, understanding that it nailed the innocent Prince of glory to the Cross, we can truly rejoice in His amazing grace. We will praise Him for shedding His blood to atone for our sin, recognizing  His unexplainable love for creatures as vile as  we. And then, filled with a sense of awe and wonder at His goodness, we will marvel as we comprehend the truth that Jesus died for us!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

An Unbroken Boston

A year ago today, crowds swelled the Copley Square section of Boylston Street in Boston's Back Bay, remarking on the picture-perfect weather as they watched Marathon runners triumphantly cross the finish line. Could there possibly be a more glorious day?

Suddenly, two explosions shattered the celebration, leaving about 264 people seriously injured and three people dead. "Devastated" seems like a trite description for our city's emotional condition that afternoon and evening as we witnessed such a  cruel example of human depravity, but  no other word speaks with more accuracy. We all felt sorrow. We all felt shock. We all felt outrage.

And we all felt a new strength that we call Boston Strong.

Two young Muslim boys from Russia thought they could break Boston through their act of jihad, only to unite the city. The makeshift memorial that grew in Copley Square during the ensuing days testified to our determination to let the tragedy strengthen us.

Yesterday, John  and I wheeled through Copley Square, noticing the media presence and police security in preparation for today's memorial ceremonies. From there, we went to the Boston Public Library to see the exhibit, "'Dear Boston: Messages from the Marathon Memorial." Although I sobbed from the memories of destruction and suffering that should never have happened, I also felt proud of my adopted city.

I've made a video from the photos John took yesterday as a tribute to the Boston Strong spirit:


Sunday, April 13, 2014

Palm Branches, Cloaks And Donkey Colts For His Coronation

Luke's account of Jesus' Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem, though perhaps understated in some respects, makes it clear that Jesus accepted public acknowledgement that He was Israel's long-awaited King.

28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.” 35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” ~~Luke 19:28-40 (ESV)

Notice in Luke 19:36 that the disciples carpeted the road with their cloaks. Matthew 21:8 adds that the crowd also spread both their cloaks and tree branches on the road to form a royal carpet. And John 12:13 specifies that the branches came from palm trees. Further, the people hailed Jesus as the King Who came as the Lord's anointed Ruler. Many of the Jews obviously recognized His actions that day as a fulfillment of  Messianic prophecy:

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey. ~~Zechariah 9:9 (ESV)
In celebration of Palm Sunday, I've chosen Chris Tomlin's updated version of  Crown Him With Many Crowns as today's song of praise. As you listen, may you joyfully anticipate His victorious return, when He comes to establish His Kingdom!

Friday, April 11, 2014

After Making Our Decision

Our decision to leave our church has become public. I had to let the missionaries the church supports know that I'd no longer be able to serve as their email contact person (we'd been using my personal email address for that purpose).

As yet, we haven't found a church in our area that teaches Scripture from a Reformed perspective. Of course, our disabilities and John's health challenges further  complicate matters, adding to the potential frustration. In all this, I scratch my head as I wonder how a state founded by Calvinists could have possibly strayed so far from Reformed theology. The Greater Boston area certainly has its share of curiosities--including its spiritual climate!

This morning, the Lord encouraged me through Psalm 69. Even though the trouble that motivated King David to compose this psalm differed from the situation that John and I face, his  feelings of being overwhelmed and helpless struck a chord with me. But so did his confidence in God's faithfulness! David trusted the Lord to provide for Him.

Near the end of the psalm, David wrote a splendid affirmation that the Lord would meet his needs, and I hope I can properly apply it as a promise concerning our search for a new church.

30 I will praise the name of God with a song;
    I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
31 This will please the Lord more than an ox
    or a bull with horns and hoofs.
32 When the humble see it they will be glad;
    you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
33 For the Lord hears the needy
    and does not despise his own people who are prisoners. ~~Psalm 69:30-33 (ESV)

Verses 32-33, in particular, offered me reassurance that the Lord hears my prayers for a Reformed church in, or near, our town. He understands our complete dependence on Him, and won't despise our desire to sit under expositional preaching. Although we presently don't have a clue how He intends to bring us into fellowship, we'll keep knocking on doors and trusting Him to provide for us.


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