Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Quiet Compassion

It was 1944, and Bert Frizen was an infantryman on the front lines in Europe. American forces had advanced in the face of intermittent shelling and small-arms fire throughout the morning hours, but now all was quiet. His patrol reached the edge of a wooded area with an open field before them. Unknown to the Americans, a battery of Germans waited in a hedgerow about two hundred yards across the field.

Bert was one of two scouts who moved out into the clearing. Once he was halfway across the field, the remainder of his battalion followed. Suddenly the Germans opened fire, and machine gun fire ripped into both of Bert's legs. The American battalion withdrew into the woods for protection, while a rapid exchange of fire continued.

Bert lay helplessly in a small stream as shots volleyed overhead. There seemed to be no way out. To make matters worse, he now noticed that a German soldier was crawling toward him. Death appeared imminent; he closed his eyes and waited. To his surprise, a considerable period passed without the expected attack, so he ventured opening his eyes again.

He was startled to see the German kneeling at his side, smiling. He then noticed that the shooting had stopped. Troops from both sides of the battlefield watched anxiously. Without any verbal exchange, this mysterious German reached down to lift Bert in his arms and proceeded to carry him to the safety of Bert's comrades.

Having accomplished his self-appointed mission, and still without speaking a word, the German soldier turned and walked back across the field to his own troop. No one dared break the silence of this sacred moment. Moments later the cease-fire ended, but not before all those present had witnessed how one man risked everything for his enemy.[1]

Bert’s life was saved through the compassion of his enemy. Moments like that take the wind out of your lungs because grace goes against the grain. Yet, we find a similar act happening during the arrest of Jesus in Gethsemane. As a contingent arrived to arrest Jesus, Peter took out his sword and started swinging, taking off the ear of the high priest's servant, Malchus (Mark 14:43-52). Jesus could have told Malchus, "See? That is what you get!" But instead, he healed the man. In this midst of this flurry of activity in the garden, very few noticed the last miracle of His earthly ministry. It was not a big, flashy, go-out-with-a-bang miracle, but a quiet one. This was a final act of mercy before the Cross.   

It’s interesting that the last miracle Jesus performed before His death was to cover up the blunder of one of His own disciples. Our Lord received no thanks from this man (that we know of). But Jesus, in the face of this lynch mob, had not forgotten about the need of the individual.

The kindness and compassion of Jesus constantly astounds me, especially as I think about the people that traffic in and out of my life that just need a touch of grace. What is kindness and compassion? Simply put, it’s the ability to reduce the burdens of others. This is what Jesus did here. He gave a miracle to an unbeliever and probably spared a fourth cross being erected on Calvary, since Peter’s assault was a capital crime.

Imagine if we practiced the burden-reducing touch of Jesus to the people we find difficult to love. The world would definitely know more of Jesus. You don’t have to be loud or flashy about it. You may not even need words. Quiet compassion is a way to be Jesus to someone today.   

I like what Max Lucado wrote about this, “Some believe that Malchus was later numbered among the believers at Jerusalem. We don’t know for sure. But we can be sure of one thing: from that night on whenever, Malchus would hear people talk about the carpenter who rose from the dead, he wouldn’t scoff. No he’d tug at his earlobe and know that it is possible.”[2]  -DM

[1] Edward K. Rowell, 1001 Quotes, Illustrations, and Humorous Stories for Preachers, Teachers and Speakers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker,2008), 213

[2] Max Lucado, No Wonder They Call Him Savior (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1986), 51. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Value of Suffering

In 1997 a Virginia man, Richard Norris, had an accident when a shotgun discharged in his face. Miraculously, he lived through the trauma; however, he was horribly disfigured as a result of the blast. Norris had no teeth, no nose and only part of his tongue and jaw. He was still able to taste but could not smell. Norris endured dozens of surgeries to repair his face, but eventually reached the limits of what conventional surgery could do for him. When he went out in public, usually at night, he hid behind a hat and mask.

Norris eventually slunk into depression. He felt like a science experiment gone wrong as he could detect people’s gawking eyes on him and could hear snide remarks from cruel detractors. Eventually, Norris became a hermit, threw out all the mirrors from his home, fought addiction and contemplated suicide.

However, a medical breakthrough occurred which utterly changed his life. In 2012 Norris became one of the first in history to receive an extensive face-transplant surgery. Norris would now wear the face of a former 21-year-old Maryland organ donor, Joshua Aversano, who died after being struck by a minivan while crossing the street. Besides getting used to his new appearance, Norris had to relearn basic tasks such as eating, talking and shaving. Amazingly, Norris’ new mug was featured on the cover of a 2014 issue of Gentlemen’s Quarterly magazine.[1]   

But even if he could go back in time, he's not sure he would erase the accident that left him severely disfigured. “Those 10 years of hell I lived through, it has given me such a wealth of knowledge,” Norris recently told The Associated Press. “It's unreal. It has put some of the best people in my life.” What got Norris through that extreme ordeal? He told reporters that it was his faith in God. Norris said, “Jesus sustained me through these trials. A drop of hope can create an ocean. But a bucket of faith can create an entire world. Sometimes God will put you on your back to make you look up.”[2]

That’s an amazing perspective to have and one that resembles a passage that Paul wrote in Romans 5:3-5, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

Suffering, although never desirable, is actually one of God’s greatest tools in shaping saints. The long-term benefits that come from suffering are manifold—it deepens our faith, reprioritizes our life, instills Christ-like character, shatters our outmoded ideas about God, makes us more compassionate and produces a hunger for the eternal. That is why people who have suffered like Norris can come through the fires and say, “If I had it to do over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.”   

Bible teacher Ray Steadman comments on the above passage like this, “How do you get to the place where you can rejoice in suffering? The apostle's answer is, "We rejoice in suffering because we know...” We rejoice because we know something. Our faith enables us to know, a kind of inside information that others do not share. Worldlings lack it totally. What do we know? Paul says, “Knowing that suffering produces...” Suffering does something, accomplishes something. It is productive. It is of value. Watch a woman in labor; watch the expression on her face. If you have any empathy in you, you can't help but feel deeply hurt with her because she is going through such pain. And yet, there usually is joy in the midst of it because she knows that childbirth produces children. It is the child that makes it all worthwhile. Suffering is like that because it produces something worthwhile.”[3]

Ultimately, suffering makes us more like Jesus. In the midst of a trial a certainty grows in our hearts that God is doing His work just as He promised. He is transforming us into the image of His Son and that is why we rejoice. -DM

[1] “Richard Norris, Face Transplant Recipient, Adjusting to New Life,” Associated Press, 28 June 2013 <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/richard-norris-face-transplant-recipient-adjusting-to-new-life/>
[2] BENGE NSENDULUKA, “Man Models Face Transplant; Credits Power of Faith, God for Surgery Success,” Christian Post, 30 July 2014 <http://www.christianpost.com/news/man-models-face-transplant-credits-power-of-faith-god-for-surgery-success-video-124081/>

[3] Ray Stedman, “Rejoicing in Suffering, Romans 5:3-10” <http://www.raystedman.org/new-testament/romans/rejoicing-in-suffering>  

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Pack Your Coffin

A band of brave souls became known as one-way missionaries two centuries ago. They bought tickets to the mission field without the return half. Instead of suitcases, they packed their few earthly belongings into coffins. As they sailed away, they waved goodbye to everyone they loved and all they knew, knowing they’d never return home.

A.W. Milne (1785-1822) was one of those missionaries. He set sail for the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, aware that the headhunters there had martyred every missionary before him. Milne didn’t fear for his life because he had already died to himself. His coffin was packed.

For 35 years he lived among that tribe. When he died, they buried him in the middle of the village and inscribed this on his tombstone: “When he came there was no light. When he left there was no darkness.”[1]

Another intrepid soul cut from the same cloth was Methodist missionary, James Calvert (1813-1892), who committed his life to reaching the indigenous peoples of the Fiji Islands. It is widely reported that upon his voyage, the ship’s captain warned him to turn back, saying, “You will lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among such savages.” Calvert purportedly replied, “We died before we came here.”

Calvert and Milne understood the implications of Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ.” The first and most essential act of discipleship is firing the planning committee in your heart and dying to self. Those men lived powerfully for God because they recognized that the greatest barrier to discovering all that God has for us is our preoccupation with self.

That is why Jesus declared unapologetically in Luke 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” The cross is more than a religious symbol or shiny piece of jewelry on a necklace. When Jesus made that statement the cross was a symbol of death. The Romans reserved it for the worst criminals. The cross was torture, humiliation and a long painful death. So with those words you can see that Jesus is not interested in “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” You don’t build a faithful following by telling people they must be at the bottom of the organizational flow chart of life.  

Jesus intentionally used a gruesome symbol to get the people's attention. He did this to say that following Him was not a game and it is not easy. In fact, it will cost you to follow Him as a disciple. But, on the other hand, it will cost you more not to follow Him.

A.W. Tozer has said, “In every Christian's heart there is a cross and a throne, and the Christian is on the throne till he puts himself on the cross; if he refuses the cross, he remains on the throne. We want to be saved, but we insist that Christ do all the dying. No cross for us, no dethronement, no dying. We remain king within the little kingdom of Man's soul and wear our tinsel crown with all the pride of a Caesar; but we doom ourselves to shadows and weakness and spiritual sterility.”[2]

So what does it mean to “die to self?” So much could be said, but allow me to give you a few practical examples of how this would work in day-to-day living.

·         To bear the cross means forgiving, instead of harboring that grudge.
·         It means resisting that temptation to do what everybody else does.
·         It means not having sex before marriage, and being faithful to your spouse after.
·         It means putting down the remote control and picking up your Bible.
·         It means praying when you would rather be sleeping.
·         It means "swallowing your pride" and telling someone about Jesus.
·         It means doing what God wants you to do, instead of what you want to do.[3]

Now let me ask you, “Are you dying to yourself and taking up the cross?” Have you packed your coffin?

[1] Mark Batterson, All In: Your One Decision Away from a Totally Different Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 13.
[2] A.W. Tozer, The Radical Cross (Camp Hill, PA: Wind Hill Publishers, 2005), 100.
[3] Greg Laurie, “The Paradox of the Cross,” 12 January 2012

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Three Million Dollar Penny

In a challenging book entitled, The God-First Life, author Stovall Weems recounts an incredible story that took several years to unfold.  

George Walton was born on May 15, 1907, in Rocky Mount, Virginia. As an estate appraiser, he had first dibs on rare coins, guns, jewelry, stamps, and books, and he built up quite a collection. When Walton had an opportunity to purchase one of only five 1913 Liberty Head nickels ever minted, he jumped at the chance. He paid $3,750 for the treasure in 1945 and told his family that it was worth a fortune. But after Walton died in a car crash on his way to a coin show in 1962, appraisers surprisingly declared his nickel a fake. They marked it “no value,” returned it to the disappointed family, and the coin stayed hidden in a strongbox on the floor of a closet.

Eventually, Walton's nephew, Ryan Givens, inherited the nickel. Even though it had been dismissed as a counterfeit, something told him that his uncle was right. In 2003 the other four 1913 Liberty Head nickels went on display, and a million dollar prize was offered to anyone who could produce the fifth. Givens submitted his coin for evaluation once more. After hours of comparing and contrasting against the other four nickels, six expert appraisers announced that Walton's coin was the real deal.

Givens sold the nickel for $3.1 million—a hundred years after it was originally minted. Imagine a coin worth more than $3 million collecting dust in the back corner of a closet for decades because it seemed worthless, even to expert eyes.[1]

That story made me think of all the discouraged believers sitting in the church pews week-in-and-week-out thinking their lives cannot count for much, when in reality their potential far exceeds their face value. What lies has the world, yourself or the Devil told you about your self-worth that you’ve believed? They come at us almost daily.

It happens when Satan whispers to us, “God doesn’t really love you, because if He did you wouldn’t be going through this mess.” It happens when we compare ourselves to other believers and think, “I can’t preach a sermon, write a book, or sing a solo. I guess the Lord can’t use me.” Furthermore, the world can devalue our self-esteem because the media extols only the most beautiful faces, the fastest athletes, the richest CEOs and the most talented celebrities.  

Don’t believe the lies my friend, because God declares that you are something special. In fact, He is so passionate about this that He wrote us a love letter declaring it:

Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago” (NLT). Did you ever think of yourself as God’s masterpiece? Think of it, when God looks at His blood-bought children He sees a Mona Lisa of beauty and hears a Beethoven’s 9th symphony of praise.

Listen to the way Galatians 4:5-7 talks about the standing of every believer, “Thus we have been set free to experience our rightful heritage. You can tell for sure that you are now fully adopted as his own children because God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” Doesn’t that privilege of intimate conversation with God make it plain that you are not a slave, but a child? And if you are a child, you’re also an heir, with complete access to the inheritance” (MSG).    

Do you understand the imagery? Paul is saying, “Look you’ve gone from being on the slave-block of sin, to being adopted into the family of God. You’ve traded those rags for robes and those fetters for freedom. God is no longer your enemy, but your Heavenly Father!” Because of God’s grace we receive God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.

So if you are one of those out there in the doldrums of self-loathing, struggling with feelings of inferiority you need to understand this—the value the world has stamped on you may say “one cent” but that’s not your true appraisal. According to Christ, you were worth dying for. Let’s live free of the labels that have been imposed upon us and instead understand what God’s word declares us to be as in Christ Jesus.        -DM

[1] Stovall Weems, The God-First Life (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 67.