Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Catechism #39

Q. How is the Word of God made effectual for salvation?
A. The Spirit of God makes the reading and the preaching of the Word an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners.

Some people like to pose the question, “If a man on a deserted island dies and never hears about Jesus, will he go to hell?”

While that is a most unlikely hypothetical question, I believe that God will do whatever He has to in order to give that man the chance to be saved (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:3-4,). God could send an angel, appear in a vision, or let the beauty of creation lead him to the truth (Psalm 19:1).

But for those of us who are not on a deserted island, God has chosen the manifestation of His Word as the vehicle to bring the lost to salvation. Any person can pick up a Bible and read Romans 10:13: “Whosoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”

But God’s desire is for salvation to be both personal and relational. That is why God established the pastor to be the human shepherd, lovingly leading the sheep to Christ. 1 Corinthians 1:21 says God has chosen “the foolishness of preaching” to save the world. God doesn’t need any human agent to bring salvation, but that is what He chose to do.

The proclamation of the gospel is not reserved for only the vocational pastor or evangelist, though. The commission to preach the good news is given to every redeemed child of God.

While it is important that our conduct back up our message, this so-called lifestyle evangelism only goes so far. We should not let hypocrisy and sin in our lives be an obstacle that prevents someone from coming to Christ, but we also need to realize that our actions do not save people; only the properly presented message of Jesus does that.

The Word of God is made effectual for salvation whenever a person reads the Bible or hears the Bible preached. Are you helping to spread the Word?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Catechism #38

Q. Who are the sacraments for?
A. The sacraments are for all who are trusting in Christ for their eternal salvation.

The last two questions have demonstrated that we are not saved by the sacraments, and that we observe the sacraments because we have been saved. Therefore, baptism and The Lord’s Supper are reserved for all who have been saved through Jesus.

Baptism should be a personal choice. We do not sprinkle babies or baptize young children who do not understand the significance of what they are doing.

The same is true of communion. If a young child does not take the elements observing the Lord’s death and resurrection, he should not be taking it.

But if any person, regardless of age, wishes to partake in the sacraments for the right reasons, they should not be refused. The only condition is a clean heart.

That’s why Paul instructed to first let each person examine himself to make sure he took the sacraments in a “worthy manner,” for the right reason, reflecting on the body and blood of the Lord.

If your baptism was a choice someone made for you, ask God if He wants you to be baptized again, this time as your personal decision. And next time the bread and cup are being served, make sure you only take them if you are doing it to remember the sacrifice that Jesus made on your behalf.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

David Nelson--A Bright Spot in the NFL

The NFL has received a black eye, and I’m not just talking about a punch from Ray Rice.

The National Football League has always had a few bad boys, but they were isolated events. Michael Irvin had drugs and Michael Vick had dogs; there were off the field issues with Adam “Pac Man” Jones and Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson.

But today’s NFL seems to have given way to the thug culture, where violence, substance abuse, and fathering babies out of wedlock has become the norm.

Ray Rice sucker punched his then-fiancée, and his team may have tried to cover it up so he could play. Greg Hardy assaulted and threatened to kill a former girlfriend. Adrian Peterson beat his toddler with a switch to the point that he had lacerations on his legs and buttocks. And although Ray MacDonald maintains his innocence, he was just arrested for hitting his pregnant girlfriend.

These recent stories follow last summer’s unfolding drama of the alleged murders committed by Aaron Hernandez.

The NFL has had to double down on its domestic violence policy. It also cracked down on its substance abuse policy following multiple violations from guys like Wes Welker, Will Hill, Dion Jordan, and Josh Gordon.

Willis McGahee has nine children by eight different women, and Antonio Cromartie has an even dozen from nine different women. In a now-famous interview Cromartie struggled to name his children. 

I’m not trying to pile on these guys. In fact, I pray that they will get their lives straightened out. I bring them up because the NFL is under heavy fire to get its personnel under control. With its image in bad shape, many fans wish there were more Tim Tebows in the locker rooms and on the fields.

But there is one such young man: New York Jets wide receiver David Nelson. A Dallas native, Nelson made a name for himself catching passes from none other than Tim Tebow. He also won a pair of National Championships with Tebow and the Florida Gators in 2006 and 2008.

Leading by only three points late in the 2008 BCS Championship game, it was Nelson who grabbed a TD pass from the Heisman Trophy winner to put the Gators up 10 and seal the victory. Nelson went undrafted, but signed with the Buffalo Bills. His career, however, came to a screeching halt when he tore his ACL. When the news of the injury broke, Nelson took to Twitter with this simple tweet: “James 1:2-3,” a Bible verse instructing us to count it as joy when we go through hard times.

The Bills released Nelson following the injury, and the Cleveland Browns gave him a chance. It wasn’t much of one, because they never played him in the preseason for precautionary measures, and they cut him on the final day of roster cuts. David Nelson was out of the NFL.

The struggling Jets gave Nelson another chance late last season, and he has not disappointed. At 6’5” he gives his quarterbacks a great target, and his sure hands help him get the job done.

But beyond anything Nelson has done on the football field, he is more valuable off of it. After his ACL injury he took a trip to Haiti that changed his life. Now teamed with his two brothers Patrick and Daniel, David leads a ministry called i’mME, a Christian organization that takes care of Haitian orphans.     

As a follower of Jesus Christ, David Nelson is a good young man that kids can look up to and emulate. Don’t give up on the NFL just yet; guys like David are using it to promote their cause. I’m glad that there is still a bright spot in the NFL.

Keep shining, David.  

Check out this video that aired before Monday Night Football

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Catechism #37

Q. What is the second sacrament?
A. The second sacrament is the Lord’s Supper, in which believers symbolically partake in the body and blood of Jesus.

As we saw last week, a sacrament is an outward sign that represents an inward expression. The first of the two sacraments is baptism, and the second is the Lord’s Supper.

Also known as Communion and the Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper refers to the final meal Jesus ate with His disciples on the night of His arrest. During the meal Jesus used two elements to paint a picture His followers would never forget. He told them as often as they ate the bread and drank the fruit of the vine, they were to remember His body and blood.

What we need to remember about this meal is that it was not a random menu; those men in the Upper Room, as well as Jews everywhere, were eating the traditional Passover meal, which was a celebration of the day God led their ancestors out of Egyptian bondage, and spared their firstborn sons by passing over every house that applied the blood of a substitute lamb to the door.

The bread that Jesus broke, symbolizing His body, was called the Afikomen; at the beginning of the meal the leader (in this case, Jesus) would take three pieces of matzo, then select the middle piece, and hide it away wrapped in white linen. At the end of the meal the middle piece would be found, broken, and eaten. This matzo represented Jesus in every way—He is the middle person of the Trinity; the matzo has both stripes and holes all through it, just as Jesus was pierced and whipped (by His stripes we are healed!); as the matzo was hidden and wrapped in white, then later revealed, so Jesus was buried, wrapped in white, and later resurrected.

For so long the matzo had represented the Passover lamb, one without spot or defect. The matzo was baked without leaven, which is a fermenting agent representing decay. In essence, the matzo was pure. Jesus told His disciples to no longer eat the matzo while thinking about the Passover lamb, but thinking about Him, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Similarly, the cup that Jesus drank (the third of the four Passover cups) was known as the Cup of Redemption. That cup also represented the shed blood of the Passover lamb, which allowed all who trusted God’s promise to be saved. The Passover leader would remind his family of that lamb, but Jesus said, “This cup is the New Covenant in my blood (Matthew 26:27-28).” As often as we observe the Lord’s Supper, we do it remembering Jesus.

This sacrament does not save us; it is just an outward sign of an inward expression.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Thoughts on 9/11

We live in the greatest country the world has ever seen, and that is largely because from Day 1 men and women have been willing to lay down their lives in sacrifice for the good of the people around them.

In 1607 a group of Puritans arrived in Virginia seeking a place where they could worship God and be free from liberal influences. These people had previously been persecuted by the state-run church in England, then Holland when their children began to emulate the secular Dutch culture. Leaving everything behind, they came to America looking for a place of religious refuge. Many died during that first winter, but rather than return to England, they stayed because they knew it would ultimately be better for their children.

On April 19, 1775, shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, and the American Revolutionary War was under way. Once again, many brave men were willing to die so that others could live in freedom. On July 4th of the next year, the Declaration of Independence was signed, guaranteeing that freedom for all Americans.

That same spirit of bravery would be summoned over and over again in America’s history, and brave men and women would go around the globe to offer freedom to those who sought it. Americans fought off Nazis in Germany, Communists in Korea and Vietnam, and Terrorists in the Middle East.

Brave Americans stormed Normandy on D Day, battled back the Viet Cong, and collapsed the Soviet Union; they didn’t flinch when Castro’s Cuba threatened with missiles, or when Saddam Hussein’s Baath Party invaded Kuwait.

The bravery and sacrifice of American men and women has been displayed most recently on 9/11, when undrafted citizens enlisted to track down and kill Osama bin Laden. That sacrifice was seen at Ground Zero when firefighters and rescue workers ran into burning buildings at their own peril because they knew there more people inside. Each time they entered those Twin Towers they knew they might not come out.; finally, the World Trade Center buildings collapsed with many civilian and emergency workers still inside. 411 brave Americans made the ultimate sacrifice that day—340 firefighters, 23 NYPD officers, 37 Port Authority officers, 2 paramedics, and a chaplain.

The brave Americans aboard United Airlines Flight 93 also made a sacrifice. When their plane was hijacked, unarmed passengers used ink pens and coffee pots to take down box cutter-wielding terrorists, then crashed their own plane in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania so that it could not be used as a missile to the White House.

That was the first 9/11. The second 9/11 happened two years ago in Benghazi when terrorists stormed a U.S. Consulate, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. The damage would have been worse, but brave Americans violated a stand down order and went to the consulate, saving several lives.

America is the greatest country in the history of the world because of the sacrifice of brave men and women who are willing to give all for other people. Brave people who live out “service before self,” who understand the concept of a greater of good, who live life with something bigger in mind.

The Bible says that no one has greater love than the one willing to lay down his life for someone else. Those words were spoken by Jesus Christ.

By far, the greatest sacrifice that was ever made was not on a battlefield or a crime scene; it was on a hill called Calvary. The sacrifice was not made by a soldier or paramedic, but by the very Son of God.

Jesus told His disciples that His love for them was what compelled Him to make that sacrifice. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners, separated from a holy God. The only way any human could ever have a relationship with God would be if one who never sinned took their place. Only Jesus could do that.

His death on the cross served as the perfect ransom; God allows our sins to be forgiven because He punished our sin by punishing Jesus. All who trust in that sacrifice and repent to God can be forgiven.

Many soldiers made sacrifices for their countrymen, especially the ones who served in the jungles of Vietnam and the deserts of Iraq. When they returned home they discovered that the media was against them. College students staged riots on campuses, Hollywood actors supported the enemy, protestors camped outside the White House, and aspiring politicians seized the opportunity to decry the same war many of them voted for. I can’t imagine what those soldiers must feel returning home to a country that seems opposed to their sacrifice.

Freedom is only as good as what we do with it. We can choose to hate the heroes and live as if we are under a dictatorship. We have the freedom to make that choice. It’s a foolish choice, but many choose it.

In the same way, Jesus sacrificed His life to die the most gruesome death in human history, and He is the most mocked figure on TV and comic strips. The freedom He offers is only as good as what we do with it. Will we accept it, and live for Him, or reject it, and live apart from Him?