Getting two minutes for cross-checking in hockey (or lacrosse) is a Bad Thing. But this is about giving yourself just two minutes to reflect on where you are in God's plan — and where He is in your life.
You might think it strange — even heretical — that a message purportedly from God Himself can be boiled down to a single, three-word phrase (and a hashtag, at that!), but why wouldn’t God’s message to us be something that anyone can grasp? No matter what the material world thinks or says about us, Jesus Christ’s life, teaching, death and resurrection are all based on the reality that to God, every one of us matters.
I hope these mini-messages — two minutes (give or take) to check where the Cross is in your life — will encourage you and help you draw closer to the Lord, yourself. Feel free to send in comments and if you’d like to get these via email, you can subscribe (scroll ‘way down to the bottom of this page to do that).
If you click on the “Sermons” tab, you’ll find some of the messages I’ve preached over the past few years. Please visit the “Books, etc.” tab, for some of the writing I’ve done (and links to order it online).
Contact me through this blog if you’d like me to speak at your church or group.
But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words.
“For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.
“But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel …”
— Acts 2:14-16
And Peter goes on to deliver the first Evangelical sermon, describing the prophecies that point to Jesus as the Messiah and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (which those who witnessed the commotion in the upper room had written off as drunkenness), and “with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying ‘be saved from this perverse generation’.” (Acts 2:40)
And 3,000 people came to Christ in that moment.
But as you read Peter’s sermon, you may notice something missing, and I believe that is the key to the sermon’s success. He doesn’t mention sin.
He doesn’t accuse people of being bad and hellbound: he declares the Good News that the Messiah, the One who had been promised for generations, has come, conquered death, and enabled all people to come closer to God.
Yes, he refers to “lawless hands” and the unjust crucifixion of Christ, but he tempers that by saying that Jesus was “delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23) — in other words, that everything that happened was according to God’s plan all along, and the people involved were only playing their part.
He also calls on people to “be saved from this perverse generation” — but he doesn’t dwell on how the generation is perverse or whether the people he’s speaking to are necessarily part of it.
Instead, Peter exhorts them: he encourages them with the news of the love God has for His people. He says, in effect, “Come on! I have seen the Lord! Let’s follow Him out of the darkness!” (Much as Peter’s brother, Andrew, said to him at the beginning of their walk with Jesus (John 1:41).)
And that evangelizing worked. Three thousand people that one day; more, as the days went on. Paul brought others to Christ by pointing them towards God — consider his speech at Areopagus (Mars Hill), where he helped them to know the “unknown God” — rather than pointing them at themselves and their sin.
That needs to be our focus as we talk to our NBFs* today: a better way – the only way – and that any troubles we have in our lives can be resolved by turning to God through Jesus Christ. Admittedly, there are challenges, especially when it comes to intimating that sin is a root cause of our problems. People do get their backs up when it’s suggested they might be responsible for things going wrong in their lives.
But that’s where testimony comes in. Even if you just say, “I realized that my troubles came from being disobedient to God,” and that by turning to Him, strength and solutions started to come, you put your own personal stamp on the message. No one can argue with your experience.
Nor can anyone argue with this, which is probably the greatest evangelical message of all:
“Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
“For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
— Matthew 11:28-30
Even as we compile an “end-times checklist“, looking at the various things happening that fit in with what’s supposed to happen just before Jesus returns, there is some good news. Our prayers for rain in Australia have been answered! There’s more on the way for the weekend in New South Wales and Queensland, and that should give the firies (firefighters) some respite. We need to keep focusing our prayers on the people who’ve lost their homes and for the animals who’ve suffered in the fires, and certainly, we can’t say, “Thanks, God – we’ll take it from here!” As with any instance where He has pulled us out of a disaster, we need to take it as a reminder to keep drawing closer to Him. That’s especially true in the immediate recovery period, when rebuilding one’s life is more than one can handle with one’s own strength.
One of the latest additions to that checklist is the report of a mysterious new virus in China. As of last night’s news, there had been nine deaths and 400 cases. In a country of – what – 1.5 billion people, does that constitute an “outbreak”? Certainly, the news media say so, but here’s the thing to note: the fear of an outbreak can be destructive, too. Keep focused on God, and hold onto the faith in His ability to keep us healthy!
This post — admittedly belated — initially ran two years ago and again last year for Martin Luther King, jr. Day. I think it’s still something to consider.
Today, my cousins and friends in the USA celebrate Martin Luther King, jr. Day, and it will be a time to discuss how far race relations have come — or haven’t come — in the years since Dr King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC.
Lately, there has been a lot of focus on diversity and identity, essentially breaking people up into discrete groups, based on outward characteristics. But was that the spirit behind Dr King’s dream?
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood … that … one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
He wasn’t talking about Black Power, or pride, or even affirmative action: he was talking about unity and brotherhood, as James Taylor reminds us.
King wasn’t the only one with that theme around that time: Kath Walker, an Australian Aboriginal poet and activist, wrote:
I could tell you of heartbreak, hatred blind,
I could tell of crimes that shame mankind,
Of brutal wrong and deeds malign,
Of rape and murder, son of mine.
But I’ll tell instead of brave and fine,
When lives of black and white entwine,
And men in brotherhood combine —
This would I tell you, son of mine.
— Kath Walker a/k/a Oodgeroo Noonuccal 1920-1993
So … not “power” of any one race over another, and not separation based on race or history; not talk of revenge against former oppressors or even special consideration; but brotherhood and integration. The Apostle Paul would appear to agree:
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek (Gentile), there is neither slave nor free; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
— Galatians 3:27-29
In Canada, there is a similar situation involving First Nations. The “reserve” system and specialized programs — not to mention other policies put into practice over the generations — have served to segregate First Nations people from non-Indigenous people. That runs counter to Paul’s principle of unity and brotherhood among anyone who has put on Christ.
So we can wring our hands now and look back on the past 50-plus years and wonder why Dr King’s dream seems even farther away now than it did then. But I believe one of the reasons for the setback has been that the progress that has happened was achieved through legislation — forcing change down people’s throats in an attempt to find a quick fix. The changes have been cosmetic and did not address root causes — including bitterness on the part of those who felt they were the losers in the world’s zero-sum thinking where if one person wins, someone else has to lose. True change starts in the heart, and moves forward through prayer, unconditional love and PATIENCE.
That was, after all, the way Jesus came into the world; He started as a baby, whose birth had been prayed-for by devout, patient people (like Simeon and Anna at the Temple), growing into a man, eventually arriving at His time to appear to the world.
One wonders: what if people had opted to pray for integration and softening of hearts between the races, and then waited patiently for God to do His work? Instead, people got impatient and wanted change NOW. Did that change really happen?
What if people had determined to love and forgive others, no matter what they did to them? What if people had determined they would stand on God’s promise, because the “effectual, fervent prayer of the righteous [person] avails much”?
Is it too big a stretch to say that today, we could well be joining hands as brothers and sisters with “lives of black and white (and red, yellow and brown) entwining”? Is it too big a stretch to say that God would have come through faster and more decisively than we could ever have imagined?
Praise God, the Cross allows us to get back on track as soon as we make the decision to turn to Him. It’s a calling on each and every one of us, and it’s never too late to start.
“When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people,
“if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
— 2 Chronicles 7:13-14
That passage keeps coming to mind when I look at the fires in Australia, the volcanic eruption in Philippines, the cyclone bearing down on Fiji and the earthquakes in Puerto Rico. There’s also been talk of a new “mystery illness” that’s broken out in China.
But while the end-times checklist makes for an unmistakable call for us to lead more and more people to Christ so they’re not left behind when the Lord does return, there’s something else that’s key to our role as “God’s People”. It may even be easier, in some cases, than overtly evangelizing.
That is to turn to God, ourselves.
The Lord’s promise is that if “My people” pray and turn to Him, He will heal the land. He doesn’t say that all people have to be the ones praying: just that His people had to pray. The impact of that prayer is not simply on our land and home, but on the land of those around us.
Remember that Elijah prayed first for drought, and then for rain (James 5:17). When Jesus set out on the Sea of Galilee with the disciples and later calmed the storm, “other little boats” were in the vicinity (Mark 4:36). They would have been just as threatened by, and just as saved from, the storm as the disciples were.
In other words, our prayers affect not just us, but those around us, regardless of the other people’s “belief systems”.
So if we are “God’s people” — that is, not necessarily “perfect” in the self-righteous sort of way, but if we love Him above all, put everyone else’s interests ahead of our own, and submit our ways to His ways — we have a responsibility to pray. We pray for specific situations, but also continue to seek His face, ask Him to expose whatever wickedness still lives inside us and turn to Him to heal it; and as we do that, He promises to heal the land.
NB: this is about the ongoing bushfire situation in Australia. If you, like many of us, want to contribute financially to relief efforts, here is a piece about some legitimate organizations that are raising money. And, at the end of this post, I’ll give you the link to an effort particularly close to my heart.
Having spent the last two months in Australia, I can tell you this: the bushfire situation is BAD. The story is the lede on every newscast and the front-page of every newspaper; the word “unprecedented” comes up almost as much as “quid pro quo” in the US media this past fall; and there is hardly a person in the country who is not, in some way, affected: they’ve either experienced the fires first-hand or they’re within four degrees of separation of someone who has.
People are praying, and praying mightily, for rain and God’s intervention.
“Our hearts cry out to you for those who have lost loved ones, and those who have lost properties in the wake of these ravaging fires. Father we pray, in your mercy, restrain the forces of nature from creating catastrophic damage; in your mercy protect human life.” the prayer reads. “Guard those volunteers, rural fire service personnel and emergency services who selflessly step into the breach to fight these fires. Guide police and authorities who help evacuate and shelter those who are displaced. Bring comfort and healing to all who suffer loss.”
— Special prayer by Most Rev. Glenn Davies, Archbishop of Sydney
Part of our human nature is to look for an easy answer to a complex problem that appears to be out of our control. Blame the Australian government, which has a hard time acknowledging that climate change is real. Blame the environmentalists, for the unfounded reason that they opposed the practice of “back-burning” — burning off potential fuel for fires in order to prevent bad ones from happening. It doesn’t matter what the truth is: find someone to blame, and you’ll feel better.
And now is the time to remember the truth that we Bible believers are privy to: Jesus warned us there’d be days like these.
“And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.
“For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.”
— Matthew 24:6-7
He doesn’t refer to “catastrophic bushfires” in as many words, but He does talk about “tribulation” like we’ve never seen before (Matthew 24:21), so I think we can say pretty confidently that what we’re seeing in Australia fits into that category.
And then what?
Jesus returns. Exactly when, we don’t know and aren’t supposed to: but the fact remains that these things are happening, the Bible “called it” thousands of years ago, and our “marching orders” in light of this are to point people to Jesus Christ so that no one is lost when He does come back.
Sorry: let’s change that perspective. We are to point people to Jesus Christ so that as many people as possible join Him when He returns, bringing with Him the New Jerusalem.
Fires, famines, earthquakes, incurable diseases, terrorism and struggles between “tribes” all look like bad scenes to be lamented. But they are all precursors of unimaginable glory, and we have to keep that in mind.
And that is the Truth. In that Truth is the Hope we so desperately need.
The Australian bushfire fundraising effort that is particularly close to my heart is one my daughter has taken on: all proceeds from one of her songs will go to three charities that are helping with bushfire relief. Read more about it here.
“Peace be within your walls, prosperity within your palaces.”
— Psalm 122:6-7
This passage gets stuck in my head every so often. The senior pastor at Gospel Mission, the late Bob Brown, would include that in his prayer before every service, and as a bit of a biblical noob at the time (I still am, and truthfully, who isn’t?), I wondered what “peace of Jerusalem” meant.
After all, Jerusalem has been anything but peaceful ever since it was founded, and especially when David would have been writing that Psalm.
Three different religions lay claim to Jerusalem as their spiritual home, and the idea of recognizing Jerusalem, rather than Tel Aviv, as Israel’s capital is geopolitical dynamite. So it’s understandable that David would call us to pray for its peace.
But what is the peace of Jerusalem? Is it an absence of war? That lovely situation would be a sign of peace, but is that what “peace” is all about?
Let’s get the obvious answer out of the way: Jesus Christ is the “peace of Jerusalem”. He is the Great Unifier, the Holy Equalizer, sent to bring all peoples — Jews, Muslims, professing Christians and everyone else — together in one family of God.
But what, for that matter, is Jerusalem? Are we only talking about the physical city, or something else?
Let’s try this. Jerusalem is a state of being. It’s that ideal situation where we are in true communion with God, walking with Him, talking to and hearing from Him, and living the life He wants us to live.
(We can say the same thing about our society, but let’s apply this to our individual lives for now.)
John describes New Jerusalem as something astoundingly beautiful and glorious: isn’t that exactly what we want in our own lives? And that happens to us when we draw closer to God. Something else happens, too: sin and the other things that have separated us from God in our previous lives don’t have a chance.
But there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
— Revelation 21:27
And we know how to be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life: through Jesus Christ.
The enemy will try to steal us away from our “Jerusalem”, just as Nebuchadnezzar hauled God’s people off to Babylon. We get tempted, sometimes fall, and can be left thinking we’re stuck in Satan’s quagmire forever. But just as Ezra and Nehemiah did, our Jerusalem can be rebuilt. There will still be those trying to prevent that from happening, but when we have Jesus, the peace of Jerusalem, we have the joy of the Lord to keep us strong.
So when we pray for the peace of Jerusalem, I believe we’re not praying for a physical city, which has been a bone of contention for millennia; but for the manifestation of New Jerusalem in our own lives and in our world.
So on Friday, I teased about “more coming” about Jesus and inclusivity, but that was pre-empted by current events yesterday. But here’s the thing: if current events — like the possibility of nuclear war, fires and a cyclone whacking Australia, floods and unexpected volcanic eruptions and new outbreaks of deadly diseases worldwide — mean we have to step up our efforts to lead our non-believing friends (NBFs) to the knowledge of Jesus Christ, we have a big barrier to overcome.
That barrier is the notion that Jesus Christ is “exclusive”.
Now, you can say “Jesus came for you and me” until you’re blue in the mouth, but that sounds like just so much propaganda for an NBF. Showing what’s written in Scripture, though, goes a long way towards demonstrating what God has in mind.
That motivation is to save us from the things that had been harming us, and the coming of a Messiah — a Saviour to bring deliver God’s people back into His favour — had been predicted for centuries. Prophecies had spoken of Him and people had been waiting, praying for Him to come. Of course, many people thought the Messiah would be a military leader, which was not what they got. Indeed, it was John the Baptist who pointed out, “Behold! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29, 36). That was a novel concept.
But that’s for another time. Do you notice how, when Jesus finally did arrive, the people who had been waiting for Him hardly noticed?
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.
— John 1:11
Jesus’ birth was proclaimed by the Angel Gabriel to
a teenage girl
a group of shepherds
a group of observers of signs
It’s that last group that really fascinates me.
We don’t know much about the “wise men”. We don’t know how many there were, except that there was more than one: it’s because they brought three gifts — frankincense, gold and myrrh — that’s made us assume that there was one wise man per gift. Nor do we know how long after Jesus’ birth they arrived: Bosch, like many of us, assumes they arrived shortly afterwards and the baby was still in the stable; others say they came as long as two years after, hence Herod’s decree to kill every male child two years old and younger. (I tend to think Herod might have been casting a wide net, to make sure they got his “challenger”.)
But the fact that we don’t know much about the Magi is another of God’s ways of drawing us close to Him by causing us to contemplate the scene. And when I contemplate the scene, I come up with this.
Several soothsayers, mystics and wizards, in different locations, see the bright star. We’re not told that they came from the same country — just that they came from east of Jerusalem — so they could have come from Arabia, China, India, Iraq; possibly even, as Bosch suggests, from Africa.
They see the star, and like Richard Dreyfuss in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, say to themselves, “This means something!” They search the holy books to figure out what it means, or they were already aware that a star over that location meant the birth of the King of the Jews; in any event, they want to be there to see it. So they saddle up and start riding.
With God’s exquisite timing, they all meet up on the road to Jerusalem. “Where are you going?” “To Jerusalem, for the birth of the King of the Jews!” “No foolin’? That’s where I’m going!”
So they all arrive in Jerusalem expecting to see a big festival to welcome the King, and find …
Everyone is going about their daily business, so they start asking around, and word gets back to Herod that these foreigners are looking for a King of the Jews.
Herod invites them over, and then asks his own religious scholars where the Messiah is to be born; they tell him and he tells the wise men, instructing them to report back where He is, so he can go and worship Him, too.
The Magi go, they see Jesus, present their gifts, then are warned in a dream not to report back to Herod but to take a different route out of Judea, and leave.
Now, here’s the point of all this. The Magi went on their journey(s) because they had spotted an unusual star in the sky and determined it was a sign.
Ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times.
— Leviticus 19:26 (KJV)
The New King James Version says God’s people are not to “practice divination or sorcery” — and in any event, that commandment is given in the same breath as the commandment not to eat blood. That’s how serious it is.
And yet, the Magi made their living by observing stars and other signs.
In other words, God announced the birth of the Messiah in a “language” understood by people who were practicing the very things that God had forbidden His people to do.
He will reach people by any means necessary. Hold that thought.
Now, look what else happened.
And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
— Matthew 2:11
The Magi “fell” when they came into Jesus’ presence. They didn’t bow; they didn’t kneel: they fell. I’d say they had a Holy Ghost, Pentecostal experience, the way some of us do when the Holy Spirit overwhelms us and causes us to go weak in the knees, shake, cry and laugh — often all at once.
Then, they were “divinely warned in a dream” (Matt. 2:12) not to go back to Herod.
In other words, they arrived in Bethlehem as “observers of signs”, but left, in communion with the Holy Spirit. We don’t hear about the star, ever again.
(I’m a little sorry we don’t hear about the Magi again, either, but that’s for another time of contemplation.)
Now, one more thing: why do you suppose the religious experts in Herod’s court didn’t catch on? When Herod asked them where the Messiah was to be born, why do you think they didn’t say, “You ask, because …???”, or say to the Magi, “What star?”
Because they were religious. They wouldn’t dream of observing signs. What’s more, they thought they knew the lot, and that when the Messiah came, they, as learned religious types, would know.
They had stopped seeking.
In these times, our NBFs are seeking, and nothing that’s been presented to them — including Jesus Christ in the form of Christianity — has filled the bill. Scripture tells us that those who come into Jesus’ presence “go their way, rejoicing”. Jesus’ presence is available to us all — that’s proven in Scripture — so even as our “end-times checklist” grows longer, it’s up to us to show others the reasons we have to rejoice!
(No, this is not the “more about that”, that I mentioned on Friday. This is more important. We’ll do that follow-up tomorrow. Lord willing.)
Over the past few days, a few more items have been added to the “come to Jesus” list — current events and situations that align with Jesus’ words about what would happen prior to His return. To wit:
Fires ravaging Australia (the head of the Rural Fire Service noted the other day that they develop three models to get an idea of how serious the fires will be: one is the least-destructive. the second is moderate destruction, and the third is the worst-case scenario. Usually, fire seasons land in the middle group. This fire situation is the worst case.)
A tropical cyclone, bearing down on Western Australia
The world has been pushed another step closer to nuclear war.
This makes it all the more important that we increase our efforts to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and the love God has for us all. There needs to be an Epiphany, a revelation of Jesus, and it’s up to us to help bring that revelation through our words, our deeds and (probably most importantly) our attitudes towards others.
As I wrote back in March, we are living in very blessed circumstances: God has caused us to be born in this time, in this era, with these situations around us, because He wants us to be the ones to bring that revelation.
It’s exciting, not a little daunting, but remember that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will be with us every step of the way!
Just before Christmas, “Celebrity Hard Quiz”, an Australian TV show, featured a series of questions about Christmas. One of the panelists, Waleed Aly, piped up, “Could you come up with a category more culturally-exclusive?”
To his credit, host Tom Gleeson briefly replied, “Yes,” and went on with the quiz.
Waleed Aly is a commentator in his own right, a lawyer, academic and university lecturer. He may have simply been going for a smart-aleck remark, but it’s a good opening: because from His lineage, through His ministry, choice of apostles, resurrection and work of His followers through the next, oh, 2,000 years, Jesus Christ proves to be the most inclusive person ever.
Look at His lineage, as described by Matthew (Matthew 1:1-11). It’s filled with schemers, prostitutes, instances of adultery, harlotry, deception and mixed marriages. There were also great leaders and people chosen by God to carry His plans forward — like Abraham, Jacob, David and Zerubbabel.
In His ministry, Jesus said,
“… the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.
“For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
“This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.
“And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
— John 6:37b-40
“Everyone” who sees the Son and believes in Him … “the one who” comes to Jesus, He will not cast out.
That’s pretty doggone inclusive, don’t you think?
Christmas, don’t forget, is the celebration of God going to extremes to make sure all His people are reconciled to Him. Of course, it’s up to us to choose to be “included” in this plan.
What’s more, Jesus calls us to go out and spread the good news of God’s love for us and the opportunity to shake off our sinful nature — the thing that keeps us from God — to anyone and everyone. Again — everyone can play: everyone is “included”.
So kudos to Tom Gleeson for saying that, yes, there are more culturally exclusive festivals than Christmas.
And one more thing: the announcement of Jesus’ birth was definitely not “exclusive”. More about that on Monday.
The fires in Australia that I wrote about last week keep getting worse. TV newscasts show communities wiped out, homes reduced to smoking ruins, people being put up in what are essentially refugee camps and others being evacuated by water.
There’s a smoky haze over downtown Melbourne and a whiff in the air that reminds one that the reality of the situation is not that far away. Pretty much everyone knows someone who is, in some way, affected.
So again I say that we need to pray over the situation: to use the relative comfort and leisure we’re enjoying to lean in and call on God to turn the situation to His glory. It’s all we can do – and all we should have to do.
We did have rain last week. We need lots more, so we can’t let up on our prayers or in our faith that God will answer.
Let’s pray for the 3 R’s:
Respite (for the firefighters)
Recovery (for the people affected)
Praise God, that He has given us the ability and the authority to pray like this over crises, through His Son. We’ve said before that prayer in the Holy Spirit doesn’t know physical distance. Now is the time to put that to work!