Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Love of God

The Marianas Trench, located several hundred miles off the coast of Guam, is the deepest place in the ocean—7 miles down! At that depth if Mount Everest, were placed at this location it would be covered by over one mile of water! On January 23, 1960, Jacques Piccard and Donald Walsh climbed into a submersible vessel and were lowered into the cold, lonely darkness. Their descent into the deep, which set the world record, has never been repeated. The water pressure at the bottom of the trench is 15,931 pounds per square inch. Yet amazingly, there is life surviving despite the pressure and the darkness.[1]

It's hard to fathom just how deep the Marianas Trench is. But much more difficult to comprehend is the love of God—it’s infinite—beyond measure. This is what Paul was trying to wrap his mind around in Ephesians 3:17-19, “so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

This is a love that is wide enough to embrace the world; a love which is long enough to last forever; a love that is high enough to take sinners to heaven and deep enough to take Christ to the very depths to reach the lowest prodigal. You can go left or right, forward or backward, or up or down as far as you can, and you still haven’t explored all that there is to know of Christ’s great love. Max Lucado adds the insightful thoughts:

“We are, incredibly, the body of Christ. And though we may not act like our Father, there is no greater truth than this: We are his. Unalterably. He loves us. Undyingly. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom. 8:38- 39). Had God not said those words, I would be a fool to write them. But since he did, I’m a fool not to believe them. But how difficult to embrace this truth. You think you’ve committed an act which places you outside his love. A treason. A betrayal. An aborted promise. You think, he would love you more if you hadn’t done it, right? You think he would love you more if you did more, right? You think if you were better, his love would be deeper, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. His love is not human. His love is not normal. His love sees your sin and loves you still. Does he approve of your error? No. Do you need to repent? Yes. But do you repent for his sake or yours? Yours. His ego needs no apology. His love needs no bolstering. And he could not love you more than he does right now.”[2]

Brennan Manning tells the story of when he was a priest in Ireland on a walking tour in route to a rural parish. He saw an old peasant kneeling by the side of the road, praying.  Impressed, he said to the man, “You must be very close to God.”  The peasant looked up from his prayers, thought for a moment, and then smiled, “Yes, he’s very fond of me.”[3] Look at the cross. See the nails, the blood, the Savior? God is very fond of you.

[1] Dennis Fisher, "Deeper Than the Deep Blue Sea" Our Daily Bread, October 25, 2005 <http://odb.org/2005/10/25/deeper-than-the-deep-blue-sea/>
[2] Max Lucado, A Gentle Thunder (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 40-41.
[3] Brennan Manning, The Wisdom of Tenderness (New York: Harper Collins, 2002), 25-26.  

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Humility and a Boot Brush

It has been said that, “humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” But what exactly does that look like? Perhaps there is no better example than the story which is told about Christian theologian John Stott (1921-2011).

Now the name John Stott may not mean much to you, but to many pastors, “Stotty” as he was affectionately called, was a dear old friend. In fact, his New Testament commentaries line my library shelves along with his masterpiece, The Cross of Christ. He was not only a fine expositor and intimidating scholar, but he was also as common as dirt.

In an excellent article about his life featured in Christianity Today, here is one memory of his legacy. Latin American theologian Rene Padilla remembers vividly one of his early encounters with Stott. “On the previous night we had arrived in Bariloche, Argentina, in the middle of heavy rain. The street was muddy and, as a result, by the time we got to the room that had been assigned to us our shoes were covered with mud. In the morning, as I woke up, I heard the sound of a brush—John was busy, brushing my shoes. ‘John!,’ I exclaimed full of surprise, ‘What are you doing?’ ‘My dear RenĂ©,’ he responded, ‘Jesus taught us to wash each other's feet. You do not need me to wash your feet, but I can brush your shoes.’”[1]

Wow! Think of it, here was a man known around the world for his preaching and writing, who rubbed shoulders with Billy Graham and other VIPs, yet he was humble enough to clean the muck off a friend’s boots. That’s a great illustration of what Paul wrote concerning the elusive virtue of humility, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil 2:4-5).

Let those words sink in for a minute. How often we stumble when we fail to be humble. I like what Charles Swindoll wrote on this, “Genuine humility isn't something we can announce very easily. To claim this virtue is, as a rule, to forfeit it. Humility is the fairest and rarest flower that blooms. Put it on display and instantly it wilts and loses its fragrance! Humility is one character trait that should be a "closet utterance,” not something we announce from the housetop. Humility is not something to be announced. It simply belongs in one's life, in the private journal of one's walk with God, not in a book that looks like a testimony but comes across more like a "bragimony."[2]

So how do we become humble? Paul tells us in the very next verse from Philippians 2:5, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” The basic law of relationships is this: You tend to become like the people you spend time with. No one has done anything more humble than Jesus, coming from Heaven to Earth to become a man, live for us, give his life for us, and be resurrected for us. When you spend time around him, it makes you more humble. God help us to put others first like Jesus. -DM

[1] Tim Stafford, “John Stott Has Died,” Christianity Today, 27 July 2011 <http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/julyweb-only/john-stott-obit.html>
[2] Charles R. Swindoll, “Genuine Humility” in Living the Psalms: Encouragement for the Daily Grind (Brentwood, TN.: Worthy 2012), Psalm 131:1-3. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

An Unseen Harvest

The first American missionary sent overseas was Adoniram Judson, who arrived in Burma (Myanmar) in 1812, and died there thirty-eight years later in 1850. During that time, he suffered much for the cause of the gospel. He was imprisoned, tortured, and kept in shackles. After the death of his first wife, Ann, to whom he was devoted, for several months he was so depressed that he sat daily beside her tomb. Three years later, he wrote: “God is to me the Great Unknown. I believe in him, but I cannot find him.”

But Adoniram's faith sustained him, and he threw himself into the tasks to which he believed God had called him. Eventually, Judson remarried and his family ministered in Burma for seven years and not a single convert was made. Finally, after seven years of labor one man gave his life to God.

He also worked feverishly on his translation of the Bible into the Burmese language. He completed the New Testament first and then he finished the Old Testament in early 1834. One by one the Burmese gave their lives to Jesus and several families ended up surrendering to Jesus because of the Judson’s work.

Because of this the Burmese government began to persecute Judson, which coincided with an debilitating affliction that he contracted. However, the day came when he could no longer continue the work of the Gospel and the Burmese, seeing how sick Judson was, sent him on a boat back to America, but Judson ended up dying on the journey and his emaciated body was cast into the sea.

During Judson’s lifetime he ended up translating the Bible into Burmese and his wife translated it into Thai. What Judson never knew was that long before he ever arrived in Burma there was a story of Burmese folklore that was often told: “One day there will come a man from a different land. He will bring a book containing the Truth that will set us free.”

Statistics are unclear, how many professing Christians there were in the country when he died, but there were certainly no churches to speak of.

At the 150th anniversary of the translation of the Bible into the Burmese language, Paul Borthwick was addressing a group that was celebrating Judson's work. Just before he got up to speak, he noticed in small print on the first page the words: “Translated by Rev. A. Judson.” So Borthwick turned to his interpreter, a Burmese man named Matthew Hia Win, and asked him, “Matthew, what do you know of this man?”

Matthew began to weep as he said, “We know him—we know how he loved the Burmese people, how he suffered for the gospel because of us, out of love for us. He died a pauper, but left the Bible for us. When he died, there were few believers, but today there are over 600,000 of us, and every single one of us traces our spiritual heritage to one man: the Rev. Adoniram Judson.” [1]

But, here is the great irony, Adoniram Judson never saw it in his lifetime! And that will be the case for some of us. This is what Paul had in mind when he wrote to the Galatians, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Gal. 6:9).” We may be called to invest our lives in ministries for which we do not see much immediate fruit. However, by faith we must trust that the Lord of the harvest who oversees our work will ensure that our labor is not in vain. -DM

[1] Julia Cameron, ed., Christ Our Reconciler (Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 2012), 200-201.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Search and Rescue

In August of 1957 four climbers—two Italians and two Germans—were climbing the 6,000 foot near-vertical North Face in the Swiss Alps. The two German climbers disappeared and were never heard from again. The two Italian climbers, exhausted and dying, were stuck on two narrow ledges a thousand feet below the summit. The Swiss Alpine Club forbade rescue attempts in this area (it was just too dangerous), but a small group of Swiss climbers decided to launch a private rescue effort to save the Italians.

So they carefully lowered a climber named Alfred Hellepart down the 6,000 foot North Face. They suspended Hellepart on a cable a fraction of an inch thick as they lowered him into the abyss. Here’s how Hellepart described the rescue in his own words:

“As I was lowered down the summit my comrades on top grew further and further distant, until they disappeared from sight. At this moment I felt an indescribable aloneness. Then for the first time I peered down the abyss of the North Face of the Eiger. The terror of the sight robbed me of breath. The brooding blackness of the Face, falling away in almost endless expanse beneath me, made me look with awful longing to the thin cable disappearing about me in the mist. I was a tiny human being dangling in space between heaven and hell. The sole relief from terror was my mission to save the climber below.” Hellepart managed to rescue one of the climbers by strapping him on his back and both were lifted out to safety. [1]

That is the heart of the Gospel story. We were trapped, but in the person and presence of Jesus, God lowered himself into the abyss of our sin and suffering. In Jesus, God became “a tiny human being dangling between heaven and hell.” He did it to save the people trapped below—you and me.

The account of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10 is a story of search and rescue. At first glance it may seem like a series of chance events—Jesus was passing through Jericho and a rich tax collector climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of the miracle-working teacher. But this encounter with Jesus was not a coincidence. At the end of the narrative, Luke deliberately included Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to this house; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost”.

Thus, the Gospel is much more radical than just another religion telling us how to be good in our own power. It tells us the story of God’s risky, costly, sacrificial rescue effort on our behavior. Our response should be a desire to help rescue others entrapped in sin. As it turns out those rescued from sin are best able to rescue those in sin. –DM.

[1] James R. Edwards, Is Jesus the Only Savior?  (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2005), pp. 160-161

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Broken Statues

In Moscow stands the New Tretyakov Gallery, a museum that displays art and artifacts from the days of the former Soviet Union. Scattered along the banks of the Moscow River near the museum are statues of once-powerful leaders that have been smashed and disfigured. Images of Stalin and Lenin have their noses knocked off and their heads separated from their bodies.[1]

These gloomy scenes bring to mind the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 2. He saw a statue with a glorious head of gold, a chest and arms of silver, a torso of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay (2:31-33). It portrayed the succession of four great ruling nations of the world. From history we know they were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. Then a stone “cut out of the mountain without hands” (2:45) rolled down and smashed the statue to smithereens. This pictured God’s judgment of those four kingdoms and His supremacy over all the earth.

There are at least three applications I think we can take away from this amazing prophecy. First, human government is directed by God. When Daniel gave this prophecy Persia was just a vassal state under the subjugation of the Babylonians. When Nebuchadnezzar dreamed this dream the Greeks were a civilization still trying to carve out independence in the Mediterranean. The glorious city of Rome was nothing but a small village on the side of the Tiber River. The metallic man shows that God not only knows the future rise and fall of kingdoms, but He is actively working to bring those regimes into His plan.

I am reminded of what occurred in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention which was held in Philadelphia, PA. The goal of course was to develop a framework for the United States government. On a particularly muggy day in June when the congress was stalled in debate Benjamin Franklin addressed the other Founding Fathers and said, “I have lived a long time sir and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—God governs in the affairs of men.”[2]

Second, human government is destined to deteriorate. The image Nebuchadnezzar saw dazzled him with the brilliance of the precious metals, but it was resting on delicate foundation of iron and clay. While the kingdoms of man may look like they will stand the test of time every one of them is destined to crumble. One devotional writer gave the following illustration. My simple advice is not to place your hope in any man-made form of government to solve the world’s problems.   

Third, human government will be deposed by the return of Christ. The only hope for humanity lies in the redemption found in Jesus Christ.  He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords who is coming back to rightfully claim the throne that belongs to Him.

When the great General Napoleon was finally subdued and his armies disbanded, he was exiled to the desolate island of St. Helena by the British. In the solitude of his defeat, Napoleon had plenty of time to think about his wasted career and the vanity of trying to conquer the world.  In his last days he regretfully wrote:

“Soon I shall be in my grave, such is the fate of great men. So it was the Caesars and Alexander and I too am forgotten.  And the name of a conqueror and an emperor is a college theme!  Our exploits are tasks given to pupils by their tutors who sit in judgment upon us, awarding us censure or praise…I die before my time and my dead body too must return to the earth and become food for worms…What an abyss between my deep misery and the eternal reign of Christ, which is proclaimed, loved and adored and which is extending over all the earth.”

Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

[1] David Egner, “Broken Statues,” Our Daily Bread, 3 August 2003 <http://odb.org/2003/08/03/broken-statues/>
[2] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: Old Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 1344.