Good Friday – 20 Centuries Ago…

jesus-crucifixion

On Good Friday, while we go through our daily routines, use your imagination and travel back with me twenty centuries to the dusty roads of southern Palestine.

The son is appearing over the horizon. By this time, the rooster has crowed, alerting Simon Peter to the fact that, just as Jesus predicted, he would deny Jesus not once, but three times during the previous night. The other disciples have scattered in fear.

Jesus has spent the entire night facing an illegal, hostile, kangaroo court designed to railroad him into a verdict of execution.

The Jewish leaders have demanded an audience with Pontius Pilate, who, normally in Caesarea, is in Jerusalem because of the crowds associated with Passover. Pilate tolerates the Jewish leaders, hearing them out. But, seeing through their false accusations, Pilate agrees not (yet) to have Jesus executed, but to have him flogged. (death may be less cruel)

Jesus is about to have his back shredded and ripped from his body, producing voluminous blood-loss and hypovolemic shock. This was the type of torture from which prisoners often died. The Roman writer, Cicero, described it as “the cruelest and most hideous punishment possible.”

But, the crowds aren’t satisfied with the flogging.  They want death!  “Crucify him!”, they shout repeatedly.  So the verdict is handed down….the death penalty. For only Rome has the authority to execute a death sentence. And their favorite form of execution? Crucifixion.

Crucifixions are “events” intended to send a message of terror to the onlooking crowds: “Thinking about rebelling again Rome? Behold! This is your fate should you follow through.”

But, this is Good Friday, right? Given Jesus’ condition, how could anyone ever describe it as “good?”

Because, without the crucifixion, there can be no resurrection.

I saw a sign once sitting outside a coffee shop on the Friday prior to Easter.  It read:

“Come on in – where every Friday is Good – and no one has to die.”

That’s a nice sentiment, I guess.  But it completely contradicts what God says:

“For all have sinned…. [and] the wages of sin is death.”

Translation:  The verdict is in.  We’re all guilty of sin.  Every last one of us.  And God’s payment to us – the wages we have earned for our sin – is death.  An eternal death sentence.

Today, consider Him who died, so that we wouldn’t have to.

This is the Gospel.

To put it in the words of contemporary culture:

karma

From John MacArthur’s brilliant “God With Us”:

“Think for a moment about how Jesus died. It was not an easy, gentle passing from this world. It was excruciating agony and torture of the worst kind, for it was on a cross. He suffered in His death. He drank the bitter cup at Calvary in its fullness – He drained it to the last drop. He experienced all the pain, all the loneliness, all the torments that have ever been associated with death…..The death He tasted was the penalty of our sin.

The prophet Isaiah, seven centuries before Christ was born, put it this way:

“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain,… Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering,… He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.” (53:3-5; emphasis mine)

MacArthur adds,

Jesus Christ received the full force of all that the devil could throw at Him. More than that (far more), He received the full expression of God’s wrath over sin.”

Contrary to the sign outside the coffee shop, according to God – someone did have to die.

So Christ did. For us. Willingly.

Why? Because of his relentless love for us all.

It’s Friday,…but Sunday’s Comin’, Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Habakkuk

The sound of silence… can be deafening.

Ever felt like God’s “stepped out of the office” and forgotten about you completely?

You’re not alone.  The “heroes of the faith” felt the same way.

Habakkuk begins his story with,

O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear?

In Psalm 13, David lamented the same thing:

How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

While the enemy hisses his lie, “God doesn’t care,” the biblical truth is this:  God may seem like he’s not paying attention to our struggles and pain, but God’s own Word says otherwise.

Jesus, himself, said,

“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” (emphasis mine)

God’s answers to our cries have always been: “yes”, “no” or “wait a while.”

It’s the “wait a while” that is most frustrating and even painful.

The Scottish theologian, Oswald Chambers, offers us a paradigm shift regarding this particular topic.  He wrote,

Does God seem silent in your life right now?

Trust him.  “He is bringing you into the great run of his purposes.”

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Nahum

In the mid 7th century B.C., Jonah reluctantly went to Nineveh (the capital city of Assyria) and warned them of God’s coming judgment if they did not repent of their heinous cruelty and off-the-chart depravity.

They repented.

Fast-forward one hundred years.

By this time, Nineveh had systematically declined as a city right back into the proverbial gutter they had created a century earlier.

God could have just killed them.

But, because God longs to forgive more than punish, he sent yet another prophet to warn them of God’s coming judgment if they did not repent.

This time they didn’t listen.

So Nahum opens up with this foreboding announcement:

The Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath… The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. (1:2-3)

They still didn’t listen.

This reminded me of a story of a similar time in history, albeit more recent. Travel with me back to 18th century, picturesque New England.

During the Great (Spiritual) Awakening of 1734-35, thousands of people were coming to Christ and getting right with God.  Nonetheless, there was one church, in Enfield, Connecticut, that had no interest in repenting.  Due to deeply-rooted spiritual complacency, they were far too comfortable with the lifestyles they had chosen – void of biblical truth.  They had a good thing going (so they believed.)  And, just like ancient Nineveh, they had no interest in God interfering.

Since God had used Jonathan Edwards, a graduate of Yale, so mightily to spark this Great Awakening, the pastor of the  Enfield church invited Edwards to come preach, hoping and praying God would use Edwards’ preaching to wake the church up out of their spiritual slumber.

So, on July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards stood in front of those unsuspecting people and preached America’s most famous sermon:  “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Edwards passionately preached:

“Below you is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; hell’s mouth is wide open;… You deserve the fiery pit;… The Devil is waiting… hell is gaping;… The pit is prepared, the fire is made ready; the furnace is now hot, ready to receive you.  The glittering sword is whetted and held over you,…

The bow of God’s arrow is bent; the arrow is made ready; and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow…

You have no refuge, no security, nothing to take hold of.

All that preserves you is the sovereign forbearance of an angry God.”

Testimony of the event bears witness that “Edwards was interrupted many times before he finished his sermon by people moaning and crying out, ‘What shall I do to be saved?”

We don’t hear sermons like that anymore.

But, we should.

The author of Hebrews warned,

It is a fearful and terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God [incurring His judgment and wrath]. (10:31)

God tried to get, both, Nineveh’s and the Enfield church’s attention by sending prophets. 

Enfield listened.  Nineveh didn’t.

As a result, in 612 B.C., God used Babylon to wipe Nineveh off the face of the earth.  So decimated was the city that the site was not rediscovered until 1842 A.D.

Do you find yourself complacent about your faith?  Has God been trying to get your attention?

Heed his warnings before it’s too late.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

The Decline of the Bible in North America

As a guy who spent 25 years in full-time Youth Ministry, I have a burning question that, with each passing year, weighs heavily on my heart and mind.

But first, a disclaimer:

There’s always debate between which is better: a digital copy of the Bible? Or one with real pages? One may be better for one’s particular learning style. Neither is “right”, nor “wrong”, but merely a matter of preference. I’m for either as long as it’s used.

Now that we have that out of the way and, hopefully, understand my question has nothing to do with what media we ought to use – let’s dive in…

Here’s my burning question:

What is the reason most modern teens have little or no regard for Scripture, and how do we fix it?

Every teen today can download a Bible app.   But, as with all technology it’s a double-edged sword. Reading the Bible has never been easier or more convenient due to digital apps. But, in my experience, less and less are actually reading and studying it.

Most teens can quote entire song lyrics by Drake and Cardi B, but struggle to recite two scriptures from memory.

Why should the Bible be vitally important?

Here’s why…

It’s the sole source for 1) telling us who God is, and (2) telling us what is right and what is wrong. A non-biblical worldview opens the mind up for complete subjectivity, sending us down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Biblical illiteracy among Christian teens and young adults is alarming and heartbreaking.

The problem, in my experience as, both, a youth pastor and adult pastor, is systemic in that a loss of respect and honor for the Bible originates with us, the parents/adults.

My favorite quote on “learning” is this one:

“We teach what we know, but we reproduce what we are.”

If we, as adults, have no real, consistent devotion to the Word of God then there is little chance our children, as well as the younger generation, will either. If, as parents/guardians, our lifestyle demonstrates a low priority for being a disciplined student of the Bible don’t be surprised when our children have little interest in the Bible when they’re grown. Parents, not church staff, were always designed to be their children’s primary “youth pastors.”

I’ve visited with many grown Christian adults who know little about the Bible. I’m thrilled to help them learn, but taken back at how much they don’t know, given the fact that our very faith is based upon a book so rarely studied.

Ever heard this one?  “The Bible is too heavy and complicated for teens to understand.”

Give me a break.

Have you seen what they’re studying and accomplishing in school?

We grossly underestimate how much they can absorb and learn. Look at how they respond to sports coaches, dance and music instructors, etc.

Granted, we can’t compete with the lightning-speed and entertainment of social media. But, we don’t have to.   We have something better than social media.

Look, when life comes crashing down around us, social media or the latest song to top the Billboard Charts can’t give us hope, peace and truth.

Only the Bible can do that.

I fear if we don’t whet the appetite of this generation, modeling for them a hunger for the great, epic adventure of God in the Bible, allowing them to, with us, wrestle with the Bible’s hard teachings and seeming problematic passages, the words of Judges 2:10 will, once again, apply:

“After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the Lord or remember the mighty things he had done…”

Please know my heart – there is no shame or guilt intended for anyone here.  Far too many times, I’ve been as poor an example for teens as the next guy.

Fortunately, because of the Cross and the Empty Tomb it’s never too late to do the right thing.

I heard a preacher say once, holding his Bible up, “This book will keep me far from sin; and sin will keep me far from this book.”

Parents/adults, join me in putting down our phones for a few minutes and engaging in intelligent dialogue with the younger generation about the Bible and the treasure it holds.

Join me in challenging one another to memorize verses and passages, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform our lives through God’s Word.

My friends, may we return to a deep conviction that God holds the answers for our fallen world, and that those answers are found in his living, active, powerful Word.

Sola Scriptura, Nick

 

 

 

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Micah

When we think of the Old Testament prophet, Micah, we commonly think of one of two passages.

Either his prophecy of the exact birthplace of Christ (which wouldn’t take place for another 750 years):

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” (5:2)

Or,…

“…And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (6:8)

But I would like to draw your attention to a nuance of the book that haunts me.

In chapter 6, vs 12, Micah lets Israel know just how far off course they’ve strayed:

“Your citizens are so used to lying that their tongues can no longer tell the truth.”

I’m fairly certain the people of Israel didn’t wake up one morning and decide, “Hey – I think I’ll become a pathological liar today.”

This didn’t happen over night.

Satan is smarter than that.  Much smarter.

His strategy is – and always has been – to slither around unnoticed, systematic and methodical in his efforts to inflict pain.  I heard a preacher once say, “Satan will take years, if necessary, to set you up for a fall.”

That said, Israel’s apathy and complacency regarding their devotion to God was a slow and calculated process.

The old saying has been proven true over and over again:

“Sow a thought, reap an action; sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; so a character, reap a destiny.”

Whether we choose to ruin our lives in the coming weeks or the coming years matters not to our enemy. 

Time is irrelevant to him as long as his objective is accomplished. 

As I thought about the insidious manner in which ingrained habits of sin can take us over, I recalled an arresting quote by one of my professors during my graduate studies in Christian Apologetics (defending the Christian faith.)

Dr. Michael Ward is a professor at the University of Oxford in England.  He made an enormous impact on my life.  Once, in an online class thread about this very topic of sin’s systematic infection, he wrote the following:

Compromise – even the tiniest amount – seems innocuous at first.  And that’s exactly the way Satan prefers it.

Be on your guard.  Find friends who love you enough to lovingly confront you if/when they see a slow, steady “straying off course.”

And, be careful to abide in the Lord, so that you don’t let the serpent into the garden.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Jonah

Like other Bible stories we were told as children, we can almost quote the major points of the book of Jonah in our sleep:

  1. God tells Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh
  2. Jonah says no and runs the other way
  3. Jonah gets swallowed by a huge fish
  4. Huge fish spits Jonah onto dry land
  5. Jonah decides to obey God this time and go to Ninevah

The old saying is that “familiarity breeds contempt.”  In this particular context, we might say that “our familiarity with the story of Jonah makes us complacent when challenged to dig deeper and wrestle with all God wants to show us through this book.”  Why?  Because we tend to believe there’s nothing else in the story we haven’t heard before.

Like speeding through a beloved vacation site or national park, the story of Jonah must be slowed down –way down, allowing us to see everything we’ve missed due to traveling too fast.

What we discover, when we slow down, is that the story of Jonah is replete with nuanced biblical principles and truth.

Permit me to share with you just one.

In chapter 1, we find Jonah in a boat headed for Tarshish with a bunch of sailors who have no idea that he is trying to run from God (which is futile.)  In response to Jonah’s blatant disobedience, God sends a tempest over the Mediterranean Sea that causes these seasoned sailors to fear for their very lives.  (side truth: our sin never only affects just us.)

Verse 5 states,

“All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship.”

Tossing their supplies overboard didn’t help.

The 4th century theologian, Chrysostom, made the following piercing observation:

When I read that I paused – and my heart constricted.

Almost immediately, I found myself replacing Jonah’s name in Chrysostom’s quote with my name.

And I thought deeply of the weight Jesus bore on the cross – for my sin.

Lord, no one in history could bear the weight of my sin and depravity. 

You could. 

You did.

Thank you, my Lord.  Thank you.  Thank you.

Soli Deo Gloria, Nick

 

Minor Prophets with a Major Message: Obadiah

The shortest book in the Old Testament, Obadiah’s message is directed toward Israel’s neighbor – and “brother”Edom.  But, even though the book comprises a mere 21 verses, it is not surprising to see how many vital truths, principles and warnings God gives through  this prophet.

For instance, for centuries, Edom had mocked Israel’s failures, gloated over their misfortunes and refused to help them in times of need.  In response, God, through Obadiah, says to Edom:

“You should not have gloated when they exiled your relatives to distant lands. You should not have rejoiced when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune. You should not have spoken arrogantly in that terrible time of trouble.”

Haven’t you, at one time or another, celebrated when someone who’s hurt you is suffering?  Me too.

But I’m reminded of Jesus’ hard teaching:

“Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you.”

“Well, that’s my favorite verse in the Bible,” said no one ever.

Ambrose was a 4th century theologian from Milan.  He also knew how hard this teaching is – which is why he pleaded with God to give him a compassionate heart for his enemies:

Translation: Ambrose is simply praying, “O God – may i never become numb and callous to the sheep you’ve called me to shepherd. Keep my heart soft and attentive that I may rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”

Application for pastors/church leaders/small group leaders: I get it. For 36 years I’ve been doing it.  Pastoring/shepherding is hard work. Because it’s relational. (By the way, if you don’t like people – and you’re a pastor – find a new career.) And sometimes – me included – you just want to disappear. You’ve run out of patience, empathy, etc.,… the well is dry. It’s at those “moments of truth” we have to take a deep breath, take inventory of our lives, and refocus on Christ and how he loved people. No pastor in history has been more in demand than Jesus. Yet Jesus maintained his intimacy with the people by means of maintaining intimacy with the Father.

You can’t give what you don’t have. Even Jesus knew that.

In the words of the great theologians, The Righteous Brothers, don’t lose “that lovin’ feelin’.”

Love to you all, Nick