Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Scars That Tell A Story

In one of his books, pastor Wayne Cordeiro tells the story about a church member named Bully, a gentle man who got his nickname from his days of barking orders at construction sites. After Cordeiro noticed the scars on Bully's hands, he asked him, “Bully, how'd you get so many cuts?” Bully told the following story about a tsunami that hit the Hawaiian Island in the 1960s:

     “I was working above the bay that our home overlooks. One morning, the tide receded so much that the children ran out to catch fish in the tide pools left behind. We'd never witnessed the tide so low before, and it gave the kids an unprecedented opportunity to play and romp through the reefs that now protruded above the waterline like newly formed islands in the ocean. But what we didn't know was that the ocean was preparing to unleash the largest tsunami our sleepy little town had ever experienced.
      Within minutes, a sixty-foot wave charged our unsuspecting town with a force we'd never seen before. The hungry waters rushed inland. Like bony fingers, the waters scratched and pulled homes, cars, possessions, and people back into a watery grave. The devastating power of that wave left in its wake twisted buildings, shattered windows, splintered homes, and broken dreams. I ran as fast as I could to our home, where I found my wife sobbing uncontrollably. "Robby is missing," she shouted. “I can't find Robby!”
      Robby was our six-month-old child who was asleep in the house when the ocean raged against our helpless village. I was frantic as I looked over the shore strewn with the remains of the frail stick houses that were now piled in heaps along the sands. Realizing that another wave may soon be following, I began running on top of the wooden structures, tearing up pieces of twisted corrugated roofs that were ripped like discarded remains of a demolition project. I tore up one piece after another running over boards and broken beams until I heard the whimpering of a child under one of the mattresses that had gotten lodged beneath an overturned car.
      I reached under and pulled up my little son, Robby. I tucked him under my arm like a football player running for the end zone, then I sprinted back over the debris until I reached my wife. We ran for higher ground, hugging our child and one another, thanking God for his mercy.
      Just then, my wife said, “Bully, your feet and your hands. You're covered in blood!” I had been wearing tennis shoes, and I didn't realize that as I ran over the wreckage, I was stepping on protruding nails and screws that had been exposed in the rubble. And as I pulled back the torn corrugated roofing looking for Robby, the sharp edges tore into my hand. I was so intent on finding my boy that nothing else mattered.”[1]

Every scar tells a story. The story of our God’s love is told by scars. Thomas poked his finger in Jesus’ side and saw the sunlight passing through the holes in His wrists (John 20:26-27). Spurgeon once commented that there will only be one man-made thing in heaven—the scars on the glorified body of Christ. But, why? You would think that in Jesus’ resurrected body, all the wounds from His suffering would be eternally removed. 

However, we find that the scars are there to stay. Just read what Revelation 1:7 says, “Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen.” That verse pertains to the stunned reaction of the Jewish people upon the return of Christ back to Earth. They too will see the scars and cry.

Jesus came to this earth, and went home with a souvenir of His sacrifice. Souvenirs help us remember. Scars tell a story. But I assure, the scars of the Lord are not for Him, but for us. They will be there throughout the eternal ages as a reminder to God’s people of the high price Christ paid for our redemption. The scars are a forever relic of the old fallen world. The scars will tell that the greatest love story ever composed was written in red. The scars will say to us, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” The scars will remind us…He chose the nails. Better yet, the scars will say to us always that the Lamb has overcome. He took the worst and gave us the best.

By the way, just as an aside, you’ve probably got some scars. Whether self-inflicted or the reminders of painful choices from a sinful life, they are there. Instead of hiding them, why don’t you use them to tell the redemptive story of God’s power in your life. Indeed, your scars may be your greatest ministry. Just as the scars of Jesus convinced Thomas to believe, perhaps your scars will convince someone today to believe. -DM

[1] Wayne Cordeiro, Sifted (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 205-208.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Maintaining a Good Witness

Warren Wiersbe tells a brief but powerful story in one of his books that illustrates the need for consistent daily conduct in our lives. He wrote:

“In the summer of 1805, a number of Indian chiefs and warriors met in council at Buffalo Creek, NY to hear a presentation of the Christian message by Rev. Cram from the Boston Missionary Society. After the sermon, a response was given by Red Jacket, one of the leading chiefs. Among other things the chief said:
            ‘Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people in this place. These people are our neighbors. We are acquainted with them. We will wait a little while and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If we find it does them good, makes them honest and less disposed to cheat us, we will then consider again what you have said.’”[1]


The Christian life is a fishbowl. Your co-workers are listening to hear if you use salty language when you are at the watercooler. Your boss is taking note of your work ethic, to see if you are the kind to cut corners. Your children are watching to see if you are the same person at home as you are at church. As the old saying goes, “Most people are more impacted by seeing a sermon than hearing one.”

Listen to the Apostle Peter on this, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

“The day of visitation,” is a reference for the Second Coming of Christ. That day will bring everything to light. Some unbelievers will see Christ in us and will become believers as a result of our testimony and good works. They will join us in joyfully glorifying God when Christ returns. Others will watch us but will not believe the gospel. Nevertheless, we are to live in such a way that the unbelievers who face Christ as their Judge will have not have the excuse of saying that we were poor witnesses of the Gospel.  

The world should look at the lives of Christians and admit, even if they don’t accept Christ or the Bible, that we are people of integrity, humility and genuine compassion. There are five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and you. The problem is that most people will not read the first four before they read you. We need to ask ourselves, “As God’s children, what are we teaching the world about the character of our Heavenly Father by our daily conduct?”

[1] Warren Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2007), 905. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Church Eternal

In 2015 there was an amazing headline, “Sunken Church Emerges from River in Mexico.” Curious, I clicked on the link and saw images of an ancient structure jutting up from the water, like a man-made island. Truly, it was like something you’d see in an Indiana Jones movie.

The article explained the phenomenon: A group of monks moved to southern Mexico and built the church in 1564, thinking the area would be heavily populated. Unfortunately, a plague devastated the region and the church was abandoned by 1776. In 1966, a dam was built flooding the area, and the resulting lake covered the church and hid it from view. But, recently a drought caused water levels to drop more than 80 ft. and the church reappeared out of the waters like a revitalized shrine. However, meteorologists soon expect rains to return and the waters will rise, and the church will again disappear beneath its murky waves.[1]

As I thought about that odd picture, a couple of spiritual lesson also surfaced. First, as the world faces greater adversity, the church should emerge as a source of charity. The long season of drought caused the waters to recede and that’s when that ancient church, which had always been just below waterline, came to the forefront. In the same way, our world is growing increasingly hostile. Violence and viruses, terrorism and treachery, corruption and cataclysms are increasing day-by-day. As a result, people’s souls are thirsty for mercy, for love and for hope. It’s times like these when the church can rise from obscurity and be a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. We have the greatest message, about the greatest Savior, who gives the greatest offer of salvation we can imagine. The church was made to emerge during crisis.

Second, even though the church is surrounded by adversity, she will endure throughout eternity. The true Church of Jesus Christ will never be overwhelmed by the world. The waters may swirl around us, but the Lord has promised to build His Church and keep it strong until He returns.   

Take note of what the Apostle Peter wrote, “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, “Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame.” Therefore, to you who believe, He is precious; but to those who are disobedient, “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone.” (1 Peter 2:4-7)

Did you see the phrase, “you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house” in verse 2:5. For the past 2,000 years there has been a major construction project going on. It’s called the ekklesia in Greek, or the church, those who are called out from the mass of humanity to become part of Christ’s eternal edifice. Each time someone trusts Christ as Savior another stone is quarried out of the pit of sin and fitted into the spiritual house He’s building. Jesus has carefully superintended over every phase of the construction process as the Divine foreman.

Charles Swindoll has written, “It may look to us that the church on earth is condemned property, worn out and dilapidated. But the truth is Christ is the Master Architect, and every stone is being chiseled, polished and placed exactly where He designed it to fit. The project is right on schedule. Never forget, even on blue days, we are living stones in a spiritual house.”[2] 

This idiom of Christ as the cornerstone of the church is found elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul wrote in Eph. 2:19-22, “19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Peter goes on to make his point ever sharper by quoting from a prophecy in Is. 28:16, in which Christ was compared to the chief cornerstone. In architecture the cornerstone was the most important place to begin construction. The cornerstone set all the horizontal and vertical dimensions for the structure. If the cornerstone was skewed by a few degrees then whole structure would be out of plumb. Because, Christ is the flawless cornerstone of the church that means that it will stand the test of time, everything is aligned properly and nothing will shake it.      

You can always tell when a new building is being constructed by the massive scaffolding that encircles the new building as it rises from the ground. As long as you see the scaffolding, you know the building isn’t finished. The scaffolding is the last thing to go. But when it is removed, you know the building is finished.

Every local church is part of the visible scaffolding around the invisible temple God has been building for the last 2,000 years. When the final living stone has been placed in the temple, the scaffolding will come tumbling down, the trumpet will sound, the archangel will shout, and we will get to see the grand work God has been doing for the last 20 centuries.

As C.S. Lewis remarked, “The structural position in the Church which the humblest Christian occupies is eternal and even cosmic. The Church will outlive the universe; in it the individual person will outlive the stars. Everything that is joined to the immortal head, will share His immorality . . . As members in the body of Christ, as stones and pillars in the temple, we are assured eternity and shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale.”[3]  

[1] “What Lies Beneath: Sunken Church Emerges from Water,” CNN News, 20 October 2015 <http://www.cnn.com/
[2] Charles R. Swindoll, Laugh Again, Hope Again (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 310.
[3] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory (San Francisco: Harper One, 1949), 171, 173. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

What Do You Stand For?

Dudley Tyng was a well-known preacher in the days just before the Civil War. In 1858, he had just finished speaking to 5,000 young men at the Philadelphia YMCA in which 1,000 responded to the invitation to accept Christ as Savior. In his message, Dudley said, “I would rather this right arm was amputated at the trunk than I should come up short of my duty of delivering God’s message.” 

One week later, while on his family farm Dudley was involved in a freak accident. His jacket got caught in the gears of corn thrasher and his arm was pulled into the machine and lacerated beyond repair.  In a few hours, he would die. Medicine was so primitive at that time, and the loss of blood was too great.

His father was there at the deathbed and reminded Dudley that thousands of people were gathering to hear him preach again that evening.  What did he want said to them? Dudley strained to get the words out of his failing lips, and said, “Tell the people to stand up for Jesus.”

That night, the assembly hall was packed with people expecting to hear Dudley preach.  But, instead of hearing him preach, they learned of his accident and death.  Then, they were given the words of his final message, “Stand up for Jesus.”   

Dudley’s friend and fellow clergyman George Duffield heard those last words and composed a poem. Duffield preached at Dudley’s funeral from Ephesians 6:14, “Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness.” He ended his sermon by reciting that poem, which was later put to music and became a classic hymn:

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss
From victory unto victory His army shall he lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.[1]

The Bible is full of bold and brave men and women whose spines-stiffened as they dug in their heels for the Lord. Noah stood against an evil generation and built an Ark (Gen. 6-9). David, the ruddy shepherd, stood against the Philistine giant Goliath (1 Sam. 17). The Hebrew trio—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego—opted to burn rather than bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol (Dan. 3). Jesus stood toe-to-toe with Roman governor Pilate and “gave the good confession” (1 Tim. 6:13). Living for God requires us to stand up for the weak and oppressed (Ps. 82:3-4), to stand firm in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13) and to stand against the advance of evil in our world (Eph. 6:10-11). God has not called us to be wallflowers or to fit in with the crowd. We are to stick out and stand up. As the Puritans would say, “He who kneels before God can stand up to anyone.”

[1] Robert J. Morgan, Near to the Heart of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2010), March 30.  

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

William Wilberforce: Human Rights Hero

Forty-six years. That’s how long William Wilberforce labored to see the end of slavery in the British Empire. His work began in earnest in 1787 when he first came into contact with abolitionists such as Thomas Clarkson, Hannah More and Charles Middleton. These activists found a kindred spirit in Wilberforce, whose conversion to the Christian faith had given birth to an abiding concern for social reform—so much so, in fact, that he wrote in his diary, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects, the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

In one of the last letters of his life, 87-year-old John Wesley, wrote to the young member of England’s parliament: “Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you?”


The dark and dehumanizing practice of slavery weighed heavy on Wilberforce. He first introduced a bill proposing the abolition of slavery in 1791, which was soundly defeated. He brought it forward again in 1792, and it was again defeated. And again in 1793. And again in 1794. And again and again and again, each time finding new support and gradually making more and more progress until in 1807, the Slave Trade Act was finally passed by the British Parliament, which put slave trading to a formal end. But that victory was only the beginning—slavery itself was still legal in the British colonies.

So, Wilberforce’s campaigning continued through the end of his time in politics in 1826, until his death on July 29, 1833. Two days before he died, Wilberforce heard the news that bill for the abolition of slavery throughout the British colonies would become law. He said on his deathbed, “Thank God, that I should have lived to see this day and did not quit too soon.”           

Friends, today we are facing a similar fight for the abolition of abortion. Wilberforce provides an inspiring example that against insurmountable odds one person filled with conviction can change the world. As I have studied his life over the years I have come away with a few timeless lessons that we can apply to the current struggle for the rights of the unborn.

We must do it together. Wilberforce had support from a network close friends that urged him not to give up. John Newton was one of those friends. Newton had been captain of a slave ship, transporting human beings from Africa to ports where human flesh was sold. He later embraced Christianity and wrote “Amazing Grace,” which became one of the best loved hymns in the world. The reformed Newton became a counselor to his young friend Wilberforce, and at one crucial point in his career persuaded him not to give up politics. Newton said it was “for such a time as this” that Wilberforce had been placed in a position of influence.

We as the church should be able to put aside our petty difference and all be in agreement that abortion is a non-negotiable issue when it comes to electing public officials. We ought to vote values, not party lines. Together we must make our voice heard that abortion is murder. We must preach this message over and over again until our culture wakes up to the reality that we are in no position to boast of American superiority when we have killed millions more than Hitler.

Failure is not final. It took Wilberforce his entire professional life to see the end of the slave trade. We too must be committed to the long-haul. He faced setback after setback and one string of disappointments followed by another defeat. Still that didn’t make him a failure. What would have made him a failure is if he had given up the good fight. The unborn cannot speak, so we must be their voice and make a compelling case that they deserve a chance at life too. As Wilberforce said about the ugliness of the slave trade, “You may choose to look away, but you can never say again that you did not know.”  

Perseverance separates the dreamers from the doers. Simply stated, it’s always too soon to quit. Impossible goals always seem that way until you start chipping away at them. As Wilberforce said, “We are too young to realize that some things are impossible, so we try them anyway. I take courage – I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out.” -DM