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For me, my belief in God was reaffirmed recently by something I would not have expected. While I was in England I visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. Worshiping in that great cathedral your eyes are drawn to the great dome. It is actually three domes, one on top of the other, with the highest and smallest dome having windows, making you think they are the very windows of heaven. I stood there in that great place, surrounded by exquisite art and architecture, and said to my friend: “This building makes me believe in God.” I think he was somewhat taken back by my statement that a physical, man-made building could make me believe in God. But I said, “What else could inspire such a sense of transcendence and create a feeling of otherworldliness — a world of unspeakable beauty and holy purpose?” These glorious monuments to God are all over England and Europe — countries which were strongly influenced by the Christian faith. “Name me one monument to the devil which has been built in his honor,” I said to my friend. “I can’t think of one.”
But then I began to think. Actually, I have seen a monument to the devil. It exists in a country I visited a few years before, whose national religion is Voodoo, or devil worship — the country of Haiti. We drove by it on our way to the mission station in Cape Haitian. It is the center for Voodoo worship — a large mud hole where chickens are strangled and their blood poured into the pool. Rumors are that there are even secret rites where human sacrifices are offered to the devil, and their blood becomes a part of the mud as well. There are unspeakable acts of evil performed there. Worshipers come to cover themselves with the mud of that cursed place. So there I stood thinking about one country whose religion worships Jesus Christ, and another country whose religion is devil worship. The monument to Jesus Christ was an exquisite cathedral, and the monument to the devil was a mud hole. One was transcendent in its themes and beauty, and the other was vile and ugly. One inspired noble thoughts and holy lives, the other aroused perverse thoughts and evil acts. One was elevating and the other degrading. One made you look up and the other made you look down.
God promised peace to those whom His favor rests. Let me close with the words from a hymn that Annie Johnson Flint wrote: "What God Hath Promised"
God hath not promised skies always blue,
Flower strewn pathways all our lives through;
God hath not promised sun without rain,
Joy without sorrow, peace without pain.
God hath not promised we shall not know
Toil and temptation, trouble and woe;
He hath not told us we shall not bear
Many a burden, many a care.
God hath not promised smooth roads and wide,
Swift, easy travel, needing no guide;
Never a mountain rocky and steep,
Never a river turbid and deep.
But God hath promised strength for the day,
Rest for the labor, light for the way,
Grace for the trials, help from above,
Unfailing sympathy, undying love.
Along with these promises, God has given us peace with Himself through Jesus Christ, peace with others through His instructions, and peace of mind through confidence in Him. When we have no peace, we have no joy. But when we know peace, we know joy.
TALE OF TWO KINGS
Two of the greatest love stories ever told. The one, at Camelot; the other, at Calvary. Two of the noblest kings ever to live. The one, King Arthur; the other, King of the Jews. The one is adorned with a jeweled crown; the other, with a crown of thorns.
The comparisons and contrasts between Camelot and Calvary are many, but one scene from Camelot illustrates a great theological dilemma that only the cross could resolve.
Prior to His appointment with destiny on the brow of that fateful hill, Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane: "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done" (Lk. 22:42).
Understand, on an emotional level, that this is the pleading of a son to his father. If your child came to you in such agony, wouldn’t you do everything within your power to grant the request?
But this Father, this time, didn’t respond as expected. And that’s the theological rub. He denied the request of His Son, His only Son, His beloved Son. In Gethsemane, that Son was asking:
"Is there no other way?"
The Son is betrayed, arrested, deserted, denied, beaten, tried, mocked, and finally crucified. Tacitly, the Father answers:
"No, there is no other way."
But why? Why was there no other way?
We find the answer to that question in a scene from Camelot, where the adulterous relationship between Queen Guenevere and Arthur’s most trusted knight, Sir Lancelot, has divided the Round Table. When the scheming Mordred catches them in a clandestine encounter, Lancelot escapes. Guenevere is not so fortunate. She faces a trial. The jury finds her guilty and sentences her to the flame.
As the day of execution nears, people come from miles around with one question in their minds: Would the king let her die?
Mordred gleefully captures the complexity of Arthur’s predicament:
Arthur! What a magnificent dilemma!
Let her die, your life is over;
Let her live, your life’s a fraud.
Which will it be, Arthur?
Do you kill the queen or kill the law?
Tragically but resolutely, Arthur decides: "Treason has been committed! The jury has ruled! Let justice be done!"
High from the castle window stands Arthur, as Guenevere enters the courtyard. She walks to her unlit stake, where the executioner stands with waiting torch. Arthur turns away, emotion brimming in his eyes.
A herald mounts the tower where Arthur has withdrawn: "The queen is at the stake, Your Majesty. Shall I signal the torch?"
But the king cannot answer.
Arthur’s love for Jenny spills from his broken heart: "I can’t! I can’t! I can’t let her die!"
Seeing Arthur crumble, Mordred relishes the moment: "Well, you’re human after all, aren’t you, Arthur? Human and helpless."
Tragically, Arthur realizes the truth of Mordred’s remark. Being only human, he is indeed helpless. But where this story ends, the greatest story ever told just begins.
Another Execution Scene.
Another time. Another place. Another king.
The setting: A world lies estranged from the God who loves it. Like Genevere, an unfaithful humanity stands guilty and in bondage, awaiting judgment’s torch.
Could God turn His head from the righteous demands of the law and simply excuse the world’s sin? If not, then could He turn His head from the world He loved? Would the king burn Guenevere?
Like the wicked Mordred, Satan must have looked on in delight:
God! What a magnificent dilemma!
Let them die, Your life is over;
Let them live, Your life’s a fraud;
Which will it be, God?
Do You kill Your world or do You kill the law?
Without even waiting for His Guenevere to look up in repentance, the King stepped down from His throne, took off His crown, laid aside His royal robes, and descended His castle’s polished steps into humanity’s pockmarked streets. Paul’s words in Philippians are thought by some scholars to be the lyrics of an ancient hymn, singing about the King of kings.
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross! Phil. 2:6-8
That scene in the movie was an epiphany of understanding. Suddenly, it all made sense. We know now why He had to die, why there was no other way.
When love and justice collide, only the cross offers a happy ending.
Source: Abridged excerpt from Ken Gire’s book Windows of the Soul. Copyright © 1996 by Ken Gire, Jr. Zondervan Publishing Houses.
THE MAN WHO’D DIE FOR HER-- COMMUNION MEDITATION
On the southern border of the empire of Cyrus, there lived a great chieftain named Cagular who tore to shreds and completely defeated the various detachments of Cyrus’ army sent to subdue him. Finally the emperor, amassing his whole army, marched down, surrounded Cagular, captured him, and brought him to the capital for execution. On the day of the trial, he and his family were brought to the judgment chamber - Cagular, a fine looking man of more than 6 feet, with a noble manner about him - a magnificent specimen of a man. So impressed was Cyrus with his appearance, that he said to Cagular: "What would you do should I spare your life?"
"Your Majesty, if you spared my life, I would return to my home and remain your obedient servant as long as I lived."
"What would you do if I spared the life of your wife?"
"Your Majesty, if you spared the life of my wife, I would die for you."
So moved was the emperor that he freed them both and returned Cagular to his province to act as governor thereof. Upon arriving at home, Cagular reminisced about the trip with his wife. "Did you notice," he said to his wife, "the marble at the entrance of the palace? Did you notice the tapestry on the wall as we went down the corridor into the throne room? And did you see the chair on which the emperor sat? It must have been carved from one lump of pure gold."
His wife could appreciate his excitement and how impressed he was with it all, but she only replied: "I really didn’t notice any of that."
"Well," said Cagular in amazement, "What did you see?"
His wife looked seriously into his eyes and said, "I beheld only the face of the man who sai...
But sometimes I think the church has forgotten how to celebrate How to party Maybe it is because we have forgotten what Jesus has done for us. Or maybe because the stories the Bible have gotten old and we haven’t been around any new believers to remind us of the hope we have in Jesus Christ. That reminds me of what happened to a tribe in the jungles of East Asia, when missionaries showed them the Jesus film. It was a big deal when I was in Seminary and one of my friends was a missionary telling me about all that was going on with the Jesus Film. The movie was being shown as an evangelistic tool to people all over—in the desert, and in the jungles Not only had some of these people never heard of Jesus, they had never seen a motion picture. And on that one unforgettable evening, they saw it all—the gospel in their own language, visible and real. Imagine again how it felt to see this good man Jesus, who healed the sick and was adored by children, held without trial and beaten by jeering soldiers. As these East Asians watched this, the people came unglued. They stood up and began to shout at the cruel men on the screen, demanding that this outrage stop. When nothing happened, they attacked the missionary running the projector. Perhaps he was responsible for this injustice He was forced to stop the film and explain that the story wasn’t over yet, that there was more. So they settled back onto the ground, holding their emotions in tenuous check. Then came the crucifixion. Again, the people could not hold back. They began to weep and wail with such loud grief that once again the film had to be stopped. The missionary again tried to calm them, explaining that the story still wasn’t over, that there was more. So they composed themselves and sat down to see what happened next. Then came the resurrection. Pandemonium broke out this time, but for a different reason. The gathering had spontaneously erupted into a party. The noise now was of jubilation, and it was deafening. The people were dancing and slapping each other on the back. The Christ is risen, indeed Again the missionary had to shut off the projector. But this time he didn’t tell them to calm down and wait for what was next. All that was supposed to happen—in the story and in their lives—was happening. SOURCE: Ben Patterson, "Resurrection and Pandemonium," LeadershipJournal.net 4-13-04
On Trial for Sharing the Gospel
17 and 18 years old, Pakistan, 1997
Anila met Perveen at school. As their friendship grew, Anila gave Perveen a Bible and taught her Christian songs. Perveen quickly learned Christian songs and began to teach them to her younger sister when her parents wern’t home. Perveen’s parents soon learned of the songs. Being strict Muslims, they were not happy about them. But rather than confronting Perveen right away, they had her younger sister try to find out where she was getting this Christian influence.
Anila eventually invited Perveen to a Good Friday service. When the young Muslim herd the Gospel presentation, she immediately accepted Jesus. Perveen became very excited about her relationship with Jesus and saw great changes take place in her life. She read her Bible and praised God boldly. Anila knew that, before long, her friend would encounter opposition from her family.
Perveen’s parents were furious when they learned of her conversion. They had previously arranged for her to marry a Muslim man. When Perveen again refused, she ran away.
When Perveen’s parents could not find her, they accused Anila and her pastor of kidnapping her. They had Anila arrested. Anila was slapped and beaten in front of her parents for over nine hours. Finally she was taken to prison.
Anila’s pastor and his family were taken to prison on the following day. Anila and her pastor experienced horrible tortures in jail. She was whipped sixteen times (five times would make a normal man pass out). When they were released, Anila could not sit for two months, and her pastor could barely walk from the bruises on his hips and thighs.
Perveen was later found by her family. In Muslim nations, children are often severely beaten for converting to Christianity. Others are killed by their own parents or siblings for apostasy, converting to another faith.
To restore the honor of his family, Perveen’s brother stabbed her to death. He then turned himself in to the local authorities. As is not uncommon in such situations, he was eventually released without incident.
Anila was then arrested on charges of kidnapping.
She was imprisoned, then released on bail a little more than a month later. She and her family went into hiding, as their lives were threatened by radical Muslims.
Jesus Freaks, dc Talk & The Voice of the Martyrs
Albury Publishing, Tulsa Oklahoma, ©1999
PASSING THE TORCH
On August the 13th, the Summer Olympics begin 16 jam pack days of competition at the site of the original Olympic Games, Athens, Greece. This month we have watched American athletes compete for a spot on the team in track and field and swimming and if their times carry over to Athens, we are in for a record setting month of August.
How many of you watched the swimming competition? In Athens eyes will be on the swimming venue to see if 19-year-old Michael Phelps can beat Mark Spitz record of 7 gold medals. He has qualified for an unprecedented 5 individual events and has the possibility of swimming in 4 relays, which provide him with an opportunity for 9 gold medals if the United States wins all the events.
What does it take to compete like Mike? Phelps said “I started swimming when I was 6-years-old. I swim everyday for about two to two-and-a-half hours. I do doubles on Monday, Wednesday and Friday during the school year and then Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday in the summer.”
After winning his 3 gold medals in the USA Olympic trials, the 200-meter butterfly, Mark Spitz presents Phelps with the medal. Lisa Dillman of the Los Angeles Times said, “All that was missing was the flaming torch being passed and a rainbow over the harbor.”
Today, I want to talk about passing the torch. As I watched Spitz place the gold around Phelps neck, raising his hand in victory, my thoughts went on to the task of passing to the next generations what we have gained in ours. I am doing a series on going for the gold, as we get ready for Olympics in Athens. One might think the logical conclusion of the series would be passing the baton but it is not.
When we have the baton in our hand, we need to already be thinking of our hand off, we need to be making the plans for the next person who will carry the torch. To wait until the end of the run, the end of the swimming lane, the end of the journey to begin to look around for someone to carry the torch is too late. You need to be bringing that person along with you.
This will not be Michael Phelps first Olympics; he competed 4 years ago, the youngest male to compete in the Olympics since 1932. Four years ago he was in training, he didn’t medal, his age was his only call to fame on that day for he finished 5th in the 200 meter butterfly and event four years later he has no equal. In four years, following the advice of coaches and continuing the discipline he established for himself beginning at age 6, he has come from the apprentice to the master and one day from the torchbearer to the torch passer.
This should be the task of every believer in Jesus Christ, to move from trainee to trainer, from novice to master, torchbearer to torch passer. If it is not happening right now in your life, then you need to begin the implementation of these skills today.
SOURCE: Bob Briggs in "Passing the Torch" on www.sermoncentral.com.
“Mercy Resting Upon Wrath!” John 8: 12-20 Key verse(s): 16: “‘But if I do judge, my decisions are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.’”
The young man sat before the bench, head held low, hands hanging loosely at his side. His crime had been serious and parents, family and all who knew him had been shocked by what he had done. The jury had found him guilty on all charges and now all that remained to be done was for the judge to pass sentence. As the judge entered the courtroom and order was called, those present, including the young man, arose. As everyone returned to their seats, the young man heard the words that he had been dreading: “The defendant will rise and face the court.” The moment had come and he knew that his entire future now rested in the hands of the man he was now facing.
The judge repeated the charges and reiterated the finding of guilty by the jury on each charge. The young man winced as each charge and finding was repeated. “On the charge of aiding and abetting a criminal act involving the transportation of stolen goods, the defendant has been found guilty. On the charge of evading an officer, the defendant has been found guilty. On the charge of possession of a fireman, the defendant has been found guilty. On the charge of . . .” The charges, six in all, echoed throughout the young man’s mind. How would he ever be able to face his parents, his friends, and especially his girl friend again? Would the judge be lenient since he had never been in trouble before? Would he receive prison time and, if so, how much? What would prison be like? As the judge rattled on, the scene in the courtroom became surreal, almost like a bad dream. He lifted his face toward the bench as the judge finished his recitation “ . . . you have been found guilty” and paused.
The judge brought his eyes directly into focus on the defendant as he began his sentencing. “I hope that you know the seriousness of what you have done. James Rogers, you have affected the lives of your parents and everyone who loves you. The law is very specific in demonstrating how serious your offenses are. The penalties it calls for in these circumstances are not lenient. However, this is your first offense and I believe that you are sorry for what you have done. You have shown great remorse in the course of this trial. The character witnesses that were called in your defense spoke highly of you. I have spoken with your parents and have come to the conclusion that there will be no repeat of this behavior. Therefore, I sentence you to one year of probation and two hundred hours of community service.” With those words the young man suddenly felt a cooling sense of relief filter down from his head to his toes. His knees wobbled and he grabbed for his attorney’s coat sleeve feeling that in a moment he might collapse under the strain of the situation.
Following these comforting words, the judge’s merciful countenance slowly began to change. With a stern look toward the young man he added, “It is my job to protect society from those who seek to harm her. It is also my job to uphold the law and punish those who disobey that law.” He then asked the young man to approach the bench. James wondered if there would be additional punishment since the judge was deliberately writing something down on a piece of paper. He folded it and placed it within an envelope. “James, within this envelope are the penalties that I could have brought to bear on you today. I want you to go home and read them over with your parents. And, remember, even though it is my job to show mercy when I feel that it is warranted, if you disregard that mercy I will be forced to do exactly what is written on this sheet of paper....
Sermon Central Staff
FAITH IN TRAGEDY: LUTHER BRIDGES
A Methodist preacher by the name of Luther Bridges was born in 1884. He married and had 3 sons. Pastor Bridges accepted an invitation to minister at a conference in Kentucky in the year 1910, so he left his family in the care of his father-in-law & made the trip to Kentucky. There, 2 wonderful weeks of ministry resulted. The last service closed with great joy and he was excited to be called to the telephone. He couldn’t wait to tell his wife about all the blessings.
But it wasn’t her voice on that long distance line. He listened in silence to the news that a fire had burned down the house of his father-in-law & his wife and all three of his sons had died in the blaze. That distraught man reached out to Jesus and wrote the words: "Jesus, Jesus, Sweetest name I know. Fills my every longing, keeps me singing as I go."
(From a sermon by Joel Preston, Pressing into Jesus, 5/14/2012)
Two men are seated in a plane. The first is given a parachute and told to put is on as it would improve his flight. He’s a little skeptical at first because he can’t see how wearing a parachute in a plane could possibly improve the flight. After a time he decides to experiment and see if the claim is true. As he puts it on he notices the weight of it upon his shoulders and he finds that he has difficulty in sitting upright. However, he consoles himself with the fact that he was told the parachute would improve the flight. So, he decides to give the thing a little time. As he waits he notices that some of the other passengers are laughing at him, because he’s wearing a parachute in a plane. He begins to feel somewhat humiliated. As they begin to point and laugh at him and he can stand it no longer, he slinks in his seat, unstraps the parachute, and throws it to the floor. Disillusionment and bitterness fill his heart, because, as far as he was concerned, he was told an outright lie. The second man is given a parachute, but listen to what he’s told. He’s told to put it on because at any moment he’d be jumping 25,000 feet out of the plane. He gratefully puts the parachute on; he doesn’t notice the weight of it upon his shoulders, nor that he can’t sit upright. His mind is consumed with the thought of what would happen to him if he jumped without that parachute. Let’s analyze the motive and the result of each passenger’s experience. The first man’s motive for putting the parachute on was solely to improve his flight. The result of his experience was that he was humiliated by the passengers; he was disillusioned and somewhat embittered against those who gave him the parachute. As far as he’s concerned it’ll be a long time before anyone gets one of those things on his back again. The second man put the parachute on solely to escape the jump to come, and because of his knowledge of what would happen to him without it, he has a deep-rooted joy and peace in his heart knowing that he’s saved from sure death. This knowledge gives him the ability to withstand the mockery of the other passengers. His attitude towards those who gave him the parachute is one of heart-felt gratitude. Now listen to what the modern gospel says. It says, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ. He’ll give you love, joy, peace, fulfillment, and lasting happiness.” In other words, “Jesus will improve your flight.” So the sinner responds, and in an experimental fashion, puts on the Savior to see if the claims are true. And what does he get? The promised temptation, tribulation, and persecution. The other passengers mock him. So what does he do? He takes off the Lord Jesus Christ, he’s offended for the word’s sake (Mark 4:17), he’s disillusioned and somewhat embittered, and quite rightly so. He was promised peace, joy, love, fulfillment, and lasting happiness, and all he got were trials and humiliation. His bitterness is directed toward those who gave him the so-called “good news”. His latter end becomes worse than the first: another inoculated and bitter backslider. Friends, instead of preaching that Jesus improves the flight, we should be warning the passengers they’re going have to jump out of the plane. That it’s “appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). And when a sinner understands the horrific consequences of breaking God’s law, then he will flee to the Savior solely to escape the wrath that’s to come.