Don’t Despair: Life Wins With Jesus

“The Lord is faithful.” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)

Easter has come and gone, but the hope it brings with it has not. We need to cling to that truth as we watch our televisions and learn that a Facebook user murdered an elderly man live on his Facebook page; North Korea plans to “nuke” us when their missile technology allows its missiles to reach our country; and Syria thinks it’s okay to use Sarin gas to snuff the life out of children. What kind of world are we living in?

The unfortunate truth is the craziness we see going on in our world is not new. In fact, one of our favorite Easter songs today was written in similar times and under similar circumstances. In 1971, a young Indiana songwriter, Bill Gaither, was also discouraged, so discouraged about what he saw happening that it helped to throw him in a state of deep and hopeless depression.

Many of my older readers remember those times. Racial tension was tearing our country apart; the Vietnam Conflict was at its peak; and three American heroes, who wanted to see a different America, were all shot down in their prime. I can still remember seeing Dion on television in 1968 singing, Abraham, Martin and John, a song that eulogized the lives of John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, and praised them for the courage they showed.

Against that backdrop, this young, promising songwriter just couldn’t bear the thought of bringing another child in this world. In fact, his wife, Gloria, then pregnant with their third child, described how they both felt: “Bill and I would talk about the circumstances of this world, and about this new discouragement, and wind up saying, ‘If this world is like this now, what will it be like in fifteen or sixteen years for our baby? What will this child face?’ We were filled with fear and uncertainty.”

That uncertainty turned to endless hope one spring afternoon when Bill’s father provided him with a modern-day parable. The younger Gaither had just paved a parking lot next to his office and there in the middle of the newly paved lot stood a tiny blade of green grass. His father showed him that lonely blade of grass, suggesting that it had a direct connection with the hope we have in Christ. His wife later said, “It was confirming a truth that had been pushing its way to the surface of our souls: Life wins! Life wins!”

Bill Gaither’s father convinced him that hope is never lost for the Christian and he penned “Because He Lives“, a reminder to us all that hope is never lost for Christians.

Life is difficult and these are dark times in which we live. But we have a gift called salvation that provides light that will show us the way in spite of what may be going on in our world. Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world. He who follows me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

That light still shines my friends. We may live in dark times but we don’t walk in darkness. And Bill Gaither’s chorus to “Because He Lives” is as true in 2017 as it ever was in 1971:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow

Because He lives, all fear is gone;

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living just because He lives.

Hold on to the promises of God and remember what the Apostle John told us: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17)

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Pilate’s Pardon Of Barabbas Was A Pardon For All Of Us

The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” They said, “Barabbas!” (Matthew 27:21)

Tomorrow is Good Friday, and I want you to spend some time this weekend thinking about its importance. The story below is why we can describe that fateful Friday as Good Friday.

In Jesus’ time, the Romans had a long-standing tradition at Passover of releasing one prisoner as a gesture to illustrate its respect for the Jewish holiday. Mark’s account of Pontius Pilate’s decision to release Barabbas covers the exchange between Pilate, the Jewish leaders and others as Pilate struggled with his decision:

Now at the feast he was accustomed to releasing one prisoner to them, whomever they requested. And there was one named Barabbas, who was chained with his fellow rebels; they had committed murder in the rebellion. Then the multitude, crying aloud, began to ask him to do just as he had always done for them. But Pilate answered them, saying, “Do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” For he knew that the chief priests had handed him over because of envy. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd, so that he should rather release Barabbas to them. Pilate answered and said to them again, “What then do you want me to do with him whom you call the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, “Crucify him!”
Then Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they cried out all the more, “Crucify him!” So Pilate, wanting to gratify the crowd, released Barabbas to them; and he delivered Jesus, after he had scourged him, to be crucified. (Mark 15:6-15)

Ironic, isn’t it? Here the Jews were waiting for their long-awaited Messiah and there he stood in front of them. Yet they played an important and necessary role in prophecy. As the story points out, it was their request for Barabbas’ freedom that led to the death sentence that put Jesus on the cross to save us all from our sins.

Barabbas was a convicted murderer who was sentenced to a cruel death on the cross for his acts. Romans – in that day – often crucified common criminals along the roadside as a deterrent to the passersby. Without some act of mercy, Barabbas knew his fate. He was, as they say, as “guilty as sin”.

So here stood two men in front of the Jews – one guilty and one innocent. But there was one more striking similarity at play that day. Names were important in Jewish culture. It told the everyday Jew a great deal about the parents’ expectations and hopes for their child. Jesus was referred to in many ways in the New Testament: Lamb of God, Savior, The Christ, King of the Jews, Rabbi, and Son of God. There are scores of references to him by names and titles other than Jesus. The one that means the most to me is the Son of God. Without that mantle, his death on the cross would mean nothing and our salvation would be futile. In other words, we all would still be dead in our sins.

Barabbas’ name meant “Son of the father”. So here in rather dramatic fashion, stood two men, both sons of the father – one innocent of the crime for which he was accused and one guilty as charged.

It was no accident for Barabbas to have been selected to stand of the platform that day. It was God’s divine plan and what a message God sent to all us. His only real son was sacrificed by death on the cross so all of us could live free and become children of God. Barabbas represented all of us that day. The Jews did not realize it at the time, but there on the platform stood the Redeemer and the redeemed.

Unless and until we accept Jesus as our Lord and savior, we are just like Barabbas – dead in our sins. But the Redeemer is always near, reading and willing to trade his righteousness for our sins. What a deal!

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Bible Teaches Christians To Exercise Discretion

“As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a lovely woman who lacks discretion.” (Proverbs 11:22)

The point of this verse really isn’t about lovely women. It’s about discretion and the value the Bible places on it.

What is discretion anyway? In other words, what does it mean to be discreet? Most of the world associates discretion with hiding something. For example, an extramarital affair should be handled with “discretion” rather being avoided altogether. Much like the word, gay, we’ve allowed the true meaning of the word to get lost in a sin-sick world.

Discretion is not really about hiding anything. It’s a character value that should show up in our lives a lot more than it does. Shakespeare once described discretion as the better part of valor. Frankly I see it more closely linked with self-control than I do with valor, the very same self-control that is mentioned as one of the nine elements of the fruit of the sprit at Galatians 5:22-23.

I learned a lesson about the value of discretion when I relocated to North Carolina several years ago. I have a high profile public job and live in a community where the values I hold as a Christian are not often seen as virtuous. Shortly after I arrived, my belief in what the Bible says about homosexuality found itself on the front pages on newspapers across the region. Reporters seized the issue, stretching the truth at my expense. One editorial cartoon even showed me being burned at the stake, labeling me a “heretic”.

I honestly didn’t know what to do. I knew that I was not the man they were saying I was, but my new community was not giving me the time I needed to show them who I really was. I asked God for help, and guess what? The Lord told me to keep my mouth shut.

I had never stopped to think about it, but Jesus never really came to His defense at any time during on one of His six trials. In fact, the Bible records that he had very little to say. For example, when Pontius Pilate asked Him if he was the King of the Jews, he simply said, “It is as you say.” (Luke 23:3)

I guess discretion is the better part of valor. Most of us would have begged for our lives. Jesus, however, said very little, knowing that far more lives would be saved through His death rather than through His life.

The moral of the story is this: Sometimes the best thing to do when problems and misunderstandings come our way is to exercise discretion and say nothing. I followed the Lord’s advice when I was on trial, not because I wanted to, but because that “still small voice” inside me told me it was the right thing to do. It was a reminder that all we really have to count on in this world is our faith, which is why the Bible says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5)

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God’s Forgiveness is Complete

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24)

The other night I awoke from a bad dream. It seems I had wronged someone and was now defending myself in court. The rub was that I was not in court because of what I did, but rather for what I had not done.

I couldn’t believe what was happening. The harder I tried to convince the judge of my innocence, the deeper in trouble I found myself. I know that justice is supposed to be blind, but it never occurred to me that the judge could be blind, too. So there I stood, being convicted for a crime I didn’t commit.

Throughout the night, I kept waking up only to return to my dream every time I went back to sleep. The irony of it all is that even though all of us dream every night, I rarely remember any of my dreams. But this was one I couldn’t forget. Was God trying to tell me something?

The Bible warns us to be very careful about reading too much into dreams. In fact, I realized it was the devil and not the Lord who was the maker of my dream because it was too confusing. Do you remember what Paul said about such circumstances? “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace…” (1 Corinthians 14:33)

So now that I knew who and where the enemy was, I could turn to the Lord to help me understand the truth behind the lie that I was being told.

The Apostle Paul dealt with an incident of sexual immorality in the Corinthian church that provides a great deal of insight about how God looks at sin in the life of a saint. It was a case of incest in which a man had taken his father’s wife. While the woman was not his mother, God’s Word condemns such acts as abominable. Listen to what Paul said, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Those verses convey three very important principles about how God looks at sin in the lives of Christians. First of all, God never differentiates between sins. His Word says that we are all in the same boat, slanderers with thieves and the greedy with the sexually immoral. In other words, sin is sin.

Secondly, sin is a lifestyle and not some discrete act. As Dr. Charles Stanley puts it, “Sin isn’t something you do. Rather, sinful is something you are from birth.” Indeed, the Bible teaches us from Genesis through Revelations that we are born to sin.

Finally, God will forgive us of any and all sin that we have in our lives. The Corinthians were about as sorry of a group of sinners that ever started a church. But Paul pointed out to them that they were heaven bound because they had been washed, sanctified, and justified by the blood that the Lord Jesus shed on the cross for them.

God’s revelation to me is that nothing is beyond his forgiveness. Just like Dr. Stanley said in one of his sermons, “No sin is too great, too awful, or too prolific for God to forgive. No person is so deep in sin, so ingrained in a lifestyle, so steeped in evil, that he or she cannot be saved.”

So you see God wasn’t the judge in my dream. Satan was spinning a lie and I almost went for it. He wanted me to think that God would send me to hell for my sins. But John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins, and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

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