Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).

"Grace, mercy, and peace, which come from God the Father and from Jesus Christ—the Son of the Father—will continue to be with us who live in truth and love. How happy I was to meet some of your children and find them living according to the truth, just as the Father commanded" (2 John 3-4).

"Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit. Some of the brothers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living according to the truth. I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth" (3 John 2-4).

Friday, February 25, 2011

The end

A few days ago, I went to the bank and added a beneficiary, payable on death, to my accounts. I sat across the desk from the banker, who was dressed in her business suit and blue collared shirt. In my sweater and jeans, I supplied my information and signed the paperwork. The banker seemed strangely nervous. Suddenly, it struck me: I wonder if she thinks I’m planning to end my life.

After all, she knew my address was Moody Bible Institute. Why would a young college student want to add a payable on death to his accounts? I looked into the banker’s eyes and decided to clear things up.

“I’m graduating this semester and thinking about endings,” I chuckled. “I’m not planning on dying anytime soon.” Right then, it hit me. Who does? Today could very well be our last day. I saw an opportunity to share about life and death.

“But I know I won’t live forever,” I clarified. A slight misstep. “At least, not here on earth. When I die, I’ll live in Heaven because of what Jesus has done.” The banker nodded as she ushered me toward the door. When I asked about her spiritual background, she mumbled about being Baptist and said she’d received a million-dollar gospel tract before. 

Encounters like that move me to pray about the end. As I answer questions about future plans and listen to the Holy Spirit for next steps, I’m reminded of Ephesians 5:16-17. Time passes so quickly. You can become either disheartened and immobilized or reminded and energized. Redeem the time. Make the most of every opportunity, for the days are evil. Consider it a challenge. If you follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s power is available to you.

If we’re to live this abundant life that Jesus lived, died, and rose to provide, we must become skilled in a few key areas (Jn. 10:10). We’ve got to realize that our days are numbered and our time on earth is short so that our hearts may overflow with wisdom (Ps. 90:12; 23:5).

Get in the habit of listening prayer. Spend time quietly waiting before the Lord Jesus. Keep a pen and paper nearby. As you’re learning to hear the Spirit’s voice, test what you hear according to the Bible (Acts 17:11). Your discernment will grow with practice (Heb. 5:14). We must be filled with the Holy Spirit that we might discern His will (Eph. 5:17-18).

Learn to say “no” to things outside His will. Throw off sin and anything that hinders (Heb. 12:1). Over committing will kill you. Refine your schedule and eliminate activities that don’t contribute to expanding Christ’s Kingdom, your spiritual growth, or your rest. What monkeys have you taken on your back that you need to surrender to the LORD?

Also, learn to say “yes.” As you grow to know Jesus more intimately, you’ll learn more about yourself. How has He gifted you? What do you love doing? As you discern His will and calling for your life, seek confirmation from mature believers. We learn His will from His Word, His church, and His Spirit. When we ignore the good we ought to do, we grieve the Holy Spirit (Jm. 4:17; Eph. 4:30). Adrian Rogers said, “Procrastination and disobedience are just different shades of the same sin.”

The Father may call you to bold new territory. In fact, He will always nudge you out of your comfort zone, so you learn to trust Him. Take holy risks. Love boldly. Make it your practice to step out in faith. I never expected I’d preach the Gospel in the open air. It’s one of my ministries that thrills and stretches me most. Join me! After all, our lives are rapidly coming to an end. The question is: will yours be a glorious one?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

All I need

He was parched. For more than a month, He had plastered His footprint around the barren desert. He walked during the cooler parts of the day and found rest during the darkest watches of the night. The sun beat down upon His brow with intense heat. Sitting to rest and pray was necessary to go on. In this wilderness, He was tempted by Satan, but the Holy Spirit had sent Him there (Mk. 1:12). He was with wild animals, but angels cared for Him (1:13).

He had fasted 40 days in the desert. Jesus needed food, right? After all, He was hungry. A hungry man needs food. Satan used that exact argument: “You need food! Turn these stones into bread.” Jesus answered, “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4). A hungry man needs a higher sustenance that goes beyond natural food.

When you bore down to the deepest level, we all need this sustenance. What do you need? You need whatever will sustain you to accomplish God’s will for your life. But where does that sustenance come from?

Of course, you need to be eating properly and caring for your body. But food alone will not sustain you. Satan later tried to tempt Jesus with worldly riches (Mt. 4:8-10). Do you need money? We’ve heard often that Jesus clothes lilies and watches over sparrows. Luke records that He feeds the ravens too (Lk. 12:24). This is gripping because, according to Jewish law, ravens were ceremonially unclean birds. These birds could not be given as an acceptable sacrifice. Yet the LORD provides even for them. He sees your need. He knows what will sustain you. We are not to set our hope on “the uncertainty of riches but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17).
Are you too dependent upon important people in your life? I’m not saying you should neglect other relationships because you have Jesus. When you follow Christ, you learn that He often encourages and speaks through others in His body. But we must be able to spend time alone with Him, to look to Him first, as we wait upon and listen to Him.

Philippians 4:19 speaks of God meeting all of the believers’ needs “according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” In His wilderness time of need, Christ’s sustenance came through the Holy Spirit, the Bible, and the ministry of angels (Lk. 4:1, 4; Mt. 4:11; Mk. 1:13). Followers of Jesus have access to all three of these (Heb. 1:14).

Ultimately, Jesus Christ is our sustenance. In other words, when you introduce someone to Jesus, you give her everything (Col. 3:11). Paul learned to be content in all circumstances, because he trusted the One who always provides (Phil. 4:11-13). The writer of Hebrews states, “Be content with what you have” (Heb. 13:5). But how? The verse continues explaining we’re content because the LORD says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 

You have only one true need. It’s not food or drink, riches, or even friends. If you will hold fast to Jesus, He will provide your daily sustenance that you might carry out His will. Find delight in His presence. He will use whatever means necessary, whether food, people, or supernatural strength during 40 days in the desert, to sustain you. In Christ alone, you truly have all you need.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine’s life provides model of holy love

Saint Valentine upheld the sanctity of marriage and the holy beauty of Christ’s Gospel, even in the face of an emperor who made his work illegal.

According to Lutheran tradition, in around 270 A.D., Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage in Rome. The emperor needed soldiers to defend his empire. He believed the loyalties of married men rendered them less effective warriors. Claudius also outlawed Christianity, proclaiming himself the supreme god and Emperor of Rome. 
Valentine served as the bishop of Interamna. He secretly performed marriage ceremonies for couples in his area. According to Roman Catholic tradition, Valentine also partnered with Saint Marius and his family to assist persecuted believers. Some accounts of Valentine’s story include him helping condemned Christians elude imprisonment and execution.

Claudius captured Valentine and demanded he renounce his faith and serve the empire and Roman gods. Valentine refused to deny his Lord Jesus. Awaiting his martyrdom, he continued to preach the Gospel and win converts to Christ. Some accounts record that while in prison, Valentine healed the jailer’s daughter, Asterius, of blindness. Other legends record Valentine and Asterius falling in love. He wrote her a final letter, signed “From your Valentine.”

Though Valentine was imprisoned, he was well liked by Emperor Claudius. He was not condemned to death until he shared the Gospel with Claudius, attempting to convert the emperor. Claudius ordered him beaten with clubs and stoned to death. When he survived this torture, the emperor had him beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate in Rome around February 14th, 270 A.D.

The Nuremberg Chronicle, an illustrated book printed in 1493, includes a woodcut of Valentine with an inscription, calling him, Valentinus, a Roman priest and martyr, during the reign of Claudius the Goth also called Claudius II. The caption explains Valentine illegally married couples and aided persecuted followers of Jesus. 

Roman Catholic tradition records that Pope Julius I dedicated a church near Ponte Mole to Valentine’s memory. For many years a nearby gate, now called Porta del Popolo, also bore his name. It was formerly called Porta Valetini. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14th a commemoration of Valentine’s martyrdom. Valentine is recognized as the Patron Saint of engaged couples, beekeepers, epilepsy, fainting, greetings, happy marriages, love, plague, travelers, and young people. He is often pictured with birds and roses.

In the years following Valentine’s martyrdom, zealous priests opposed heathen romantic practices. They used Valentine’s story specifically in decrying one such pagan tradition. On February 15th, girls would write and sign love notes, placing them into an urn. Boys would draw notes and pursue the girls whose names they believed their goddess, Februata Juno, had caused them to choose. 

Present-day Valentine customs more closely resemble this pagan practice than remembrances of a holy man’s ministry and sacrifice. Saint Valentine’s Day was instated for holy recollection and worship. Have our ears become so clogged with love notes and chocolate candies that we hear not the call of Saint Valentine echoing through the catacombs and into our hearts? “Come out! Be separate. Live a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Risk all. Defend holy matrimony. Uphold Christ’s Gospel at all costs!”

In honor of this saint, let us proclaim with words and lifestyle the treasure of marriage and the unending worth of the Gospel, a message worthy of one’s complete surrender and even one’s life.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Divine appointments

Sitting aboard a 6:30 a.m. Megabus, I was overcome with the reality of the sovereign power of God. Lightning illuminated a dark sky. As we drove through a pouring rainstorm devoid of thunder, I recalled the morning’s events.

I’d planned to take a 5:30 a.m. Brown Line train to make my bus with wiggle room. The day before, I worked from morning till midnight, showered, and set out clothes with excitement to visit my sweetheart and family over New Year’s.

I slept through my alarm and sat up in bed at 6 a.m. in a daze. I dove from the top bunk and confirmed my bus would leave at 6:30. My thoughts raced as I hurried around my room: could I catch a later “L” train and still make it? The train schedule didn’t cooperate with mine. Of course, a taxi! I was struck at that moment with a bolt of truth. The LORD was answering my prayer offered up the day before: “Lord Jesus, as I go, set divine appointments for me to share the faith.”

I flew down the hall, onto the elevator, and out the front door. Abduhl, my Muslim cab driver, spotted me flailing my arms and splashing through puddles down Wells Street.

As he hit the gas toward Union Station, he asked if I was studying religion at Moody Bible. Our spiritual conversation accelerated.

He told me about his religion and warned me not to go as a missionary to his home, Somalia: “They won’t listen, and it’ll be a waste of money.” Abduhl asked me, “Who is Jesus to you?” I explained, Jesus is God in flesh, and He died to defeat death and conquer the devil (Jn. 8:58-59; 10:30-33; Col. 2:15). When it came time for payment, the fare was half what I’d expected, and I’d kept my first appointment. In the rush, I’d left a few items in my room, but I’d also left a Gospel tract and my email with Abduhl.

I boarded a crowded bus and filled one of the few remaining seats. The open spot beside me was soon taken by Josh, the tech guy for a creative nonviolence group in Chicago. He and his wife were also traveling for the holiday. He’d heard of Moody and was gracious during our few minutes of conversation. I asked if he planned to sleep on the bus. When he nodded yes, I noted his organization’s website and gave him a Gospel tract with my email. He thanked me and agreed to consider my message. Appointment number two kept.

My itinerary said I’d have only five minutes to make the transfer onto the bus that would carry me home to family. I’d heard these buses were often delayed. I sat in the dark, wondering if I’d make it. In that moment of anxiety, I surrendered to the LORD’s sovereignty. The Living God, who woke me up on time for my Gospel-sharing appointments, would lead and guide me safely to His intended destination with or without an alarm clock.

We rolled in about half an hour early, and I shared the Gospel with a few people at the bus station and a non-practicing Jew named Mike during the final leg of the journey. Each appointment had been purposefully set by my Heavenly Father. When I arrived, I learned some Jehovah’s Witness friends of the family wanted to talk about theology. “Can I set an appointment?” a beloved family member asked. I knew an appointment had already been set on the Lord’s calendar. On the return trip, I kept appointments with a confused college student named Andy, John from Mexico, and Samson from Japan.

Could it be that my temporary challenges were necessary in the glorious outworking of God’s plan to draw these people nearer to a saving knowledge of Jesus? Our present suffering is not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18). The King of the universe turns darkness into light and makes the rough places smooth (Isa. 42:16). He’s trustworthy and in control.