Thursday, April 18, 2024

You’ve Been Summoned

A couple of years ago I had the honor of serving on a jury. It was by no means a noteworthy trial but it was important to the people involved. I felt a great deal of responsibility as the jury deliberated and eventually arrived at a verdict. We all wanted to make the right, fair and just decision and I believe we did. To make that decision we relied on the evidence presented to us by the witnesses. That’s what witnesses do. They help people arrive at a decision.

That word “witness” is used several times in the New Testament to describe the evangelistic work of the early believers. Jesus actually uses that very term as he commissions his disciples to spread the word about him. After his resurrection he flat out told the believers, “You are my witnesses.” It was their lives and their words that Jesus was counting on to convince other people that he is the Son of God and that eternal life is available through Him.

As they were witnesses for Jesus, we too serve the same function. Every believer in a sense has been called to the witness stand. It is our lives and our words that Jesus is counting on to convince those around us that Jesus is who he says he is. So, are you a convincing witness?

The witnesses who were most convincing to me had these qualities – they were confident and they were clear. When they told their recollection of the event in question they didn’t waver on their account. They presented their testimony with certainty and conviction. They also presented it clearly; in a way I could understand. There was no need for technical or complex jargon to help me understand the events.

I’m thinking that if we want to be convincing witnesses for Jesus, perhaps we need to display those same qualities – confidence and clarity.  If we expect others to believe that Jesus is the Son of God then we need to firmly believe ourselves and act like it.

Are we confident and are we clear?

Do people see in you and me a strong conviction that we believe? Do our lives demonstrate a sense of joy knowing we are saved? Do those around us see how much our lives have been changed for the better because we know Jesus? Do people see us living a life of faithful obedience?

Or are we sending confusing and mixed messages by claiming to believe but not really acting like it? Do we remain silent about our faith rather than speak up? Do we waver in our commitment consequently compromising our testimony?

What kind of witness am I? What kind of witness are you?

As a believer, we have been summoned. We are all witnesses and the world around us is the jury. May we be faithful and convincing. Let’s do all we can to help people arrive at the decision that Jesus is Lord.

Friday, March 29, 2024

You will be with me in paradise

Luke 23:32, 39–43 (NIV)

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

What an interesting exchange we have here. Three men on a cross. All of them probably gasping for breath but still able to speak. One insults Jesus. One sees his innocence. One taunts him. One begs for mercy.

That’s what the cross does – it either turns you into a cynical skeptic or a penitent believer. It’s just like Paul says:  1 Corinthians 1:18 (NIV) — 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

So today, Good Friday, we are come to the cross. What is our reaction? What is your reaction? Is the cross foolishness or power? Do you mock Jesus or do you come in penitence? What is your reaction? Because our reaction to the cross makes all the difference in the world. We can get what we deserve or we can beg for mercy and find forgiveness.

I find it quite amazing that Jesus says anything at this point. When I am in pain I just want to be left alone. I don’t want to talk to people. I especially don’t want to mediate a dispute between people. I probably would have just remained silent or told them both to just be quiet. If I said anything it might have been something like, “Can’t you see I’m dying here. Leave me alone.”

But isn’t this just like Jesus. He never ignores the genuine cry of mercy. When the leper called out to be healed, Jesus responded. When the apostles cried out in the storm, Jesus calmed the sea. When the hemorrhaging woman touched the hem of his garment, Jesus stopped. Jesus never ignores a cry of mercy.

What is your cry? He hears. He cares. He responds.

And isn’t his response so beautiful – Today you will be with me in paradise.

Paradise. Even on the cross paradise is on Jesus’s mind. I think it was always on Jesus’s mind. And that thought, the thought of Paradise powered him through difficult times. "For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame." (Hebrews 12:2) Jesus was obsessed with Paradise even in the pain. Am I? Are you? Is paradise always on our mind?

You see, Jesus doesn’t miraculously free the criminal from the cross but he urges him to look forward. All your pain, all your guilt, all your worry, all your fear, all your unmet needs will soon be a distant memory because you will be with me in paradise.

What is your cry? He hears. He cares. He responds. Hear him say to you today, from the cross and because of the cross – you will be with me in paradise.

The pain may not go away but the promise of paradise – it is more than we deserve and it is more than we can imagine.

Jesus says the same to you as he said to the penitent thief – you will be with me in paradise!

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

A Good Start Matters

I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was my sixth-grade field day when all the elementary schools gathered for a series of track and field events at the town’s high school track. It was a sunny New England spring morning and I was representing Glen Forest Elementary School in the 50-yard dash. There were several preliminary heats before the final and only the top finishers would move on to the next round. In one of my proudest athletic accomplishments of my young life I went on to win that preliminary round. I can still remember breaking the tape at the finish line and being congratulated by my classmates. It was pure joy. I had advanced to the finals.

After a short break, the qualifiers lined up for the finals. We waited for the gun to sound to start the race. Visions of glory swept through my mind when I heard the firing of the gun and the race began. But tragedy struck! As I began my acceleration, instead of my feet propelling me forward, my shoes kicked up gravel from the track and I found myself face first on the ground as the others sped forward to the finish line. As quickly as possible, I got to my feet and enthusiastically tried to catch up, but my poor start had doomed me to a last place finish.

No one can know how I would have done had I not slipped, but one thing I learned from that experience is how important it is to get off to a good start.

Every day is a 50-yard dash of sorts. We have people to see, tasks to accomplish, calls to make. Add to that the unexpected events that will pop up along the way. How we handle our day can largely depend on how we start our day.  If we get off to a bad start, try as we might, we could very well find ourselves coming in last. If we get off to a good start, we undoubtedly will increase our probability of success.

If we want our interactions with people to be constructive; if we want to accomplish our tasks with gracefulness and proficiency; if we want to leave behind a trail of joy and peace wherever we go it is vital to start the day well.

Here are some ideas:

  1. Wake up each day realizing that today is a gift from God that will never come again. Once today is gone, you can never relive it.
  2. Commit your day to the Lord. You are only here because God has created you to be here. The day is His, not yours.
  3. Pray for the specific tasks you have that day and the specific people you will interact with. Begin the day by intentionally bringing goodness and optimism into every task and every interaction you will have. Pray that you can gracefully handle those unexpected tasks and encounters.
  4. Spend at least a little time in the Word. Allow God to speak truth to you as you live is a world that too often lies.

Start your day well and increase your chance of victory!


Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Easier said than done.

Do you ever find it hard to be happy for people when good things happen to them? I do.

Someone gets a promotion and instead of being happy for them I’m envious. A friend’s child gets an award and jealousy is my first reaction instead of joy.

Why can’t I just be happy when good things happen to people?  Why can’t I just “rejoice with those who rejoice?” Why do these feelings of resentment set in? It seems to happen a lot to me, and I don’t like it. I wish I could find an answer, and a recent experience may have provided one.

I am a huge baseball fan. I grew up near Boston and, even though I’ve lived in Texas for over 30 years, my heart has always been with the Boston Red Sox. They didn’t do well this past year at all. In fact, they finished in last place.

The Texas Rangers won the World Series this year for the very first time. I’m not a Rangers fan but I found myself rejoicing with my friends who are. On the night they won the Series I was texting my Ranger fan friends congratulating them. I went on social media and messaged more congratulations to my online Ranger fan friends. I was rejoicing with those who rejoice. And I wondered why. Normally I would be resentful. Normally I would be jealous. What was happening to me?

And a thought dawned on me.

My beloved Red Sox have won 4 World Series since they broke an 86-year championship drought in 2004. More than that, the first 20 years of this century have provided a glut of championships for Boston sports fans. The Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots – all my favorites – have brought more sport’s joy in those two decades than a city deserves. As a Boston sport’s fan “my cup runneth over.”  

Maybe I was able to rejoice with those Ranger fans because I have been so blessed.

Maybe that’s my problem. Maybe that’s why sometimes I have a hard time “rejoicing with those who rejoice.” Maybe I’m not as aware of my blessings as I would like to think I am. And maybe if I could just be more thankful, I could be more happy for the good fortune of others. Maybe that’s the secret. If that’s true for baseball, shouldn’t it be true always?

As a forgiven child of God in line to inherit eternal life you would think I would be protected from resentment, envy, and jealousy. And I believe it will. So, I’m learning to rejoice in my salvation more and more knowing that as I bask in the joy of grace I will be free from those life-stealing vices and become a person who can genuinely celebrate when the other person gets a win.

God has showered me with a glut of forgiveness, mercy, and grace – far more than I deserve. “My cup runneth over” and when that becomes my focus I can’t help but rejoice.