Monthly Archives: January 2012

Disaster Relief is Gospel Proclamation

Clay, Alabama, is a community tucked away in the very last foothills of the Appalachians that rest in the central part of the state. It’s an unsuspecting place, quiet, and beautiful. The high school is a source of intense pride. We’re proud to be from Clay-Chalkville. You may have never heard of us, but that won’t diminish the pride. That quiet community, however, gained a national spotlight last Monday.

Before the sun could do it’s job in bringing light and life on that Monday morning, terror and disaster awoke Clay’s residents. A tornado touched down and destruction ensued. The event itself wasn’t long, but the impact will last forever.

I had the opportunity to travel back to my Alabama roots. It was painful. Gut-wrenching doesn’t quite describe the feeling of seeing the things you once knew so well left in a pile of debris. Praise God my family was ok, and, for all practical purposes, left untouched by the destruction. My neighbors aren’t, though. They’re picking up the pieces of their lives. Literally.

Survivors guilt. Why was I spared? Why is my stuff ok? Why aren’t my childhood memories scattered across the neighbor’s yard, tossed about carelessly like a child’s legos? It’s a feeling the Lord is making all too real in my life. You see, tornadoes aren’t new to me. As a student at Union University in 2008, a tornado hit our campus, removing 80% of the residence life buildings and leaving 40 million dollars in damage. I was in the 20%. I didn’t lose anything. Let me share what I gained though, and what, once again, another tornado reminded me of.

Storms are a reminder of the gospel. They are a part of the gospel story. Prior to sin, destruction wasn’t there. But sin entered the world, and so did tornadoes. Storms are a reminder that the world is not right. We as humans are not right. We live under the curse.

An interesting thing happens, though, in a tornado and the days that follow. I experienced it at Union, and I experienced it in Clay. The sun comes up. The body comes together. Hope is born. Do you see the gospel there?

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, says “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you–unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”

As believers we hope in the coming resurrection. We will be raised with him. To what? Look at Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'” There will be a day, when things will be right again.

While they are not, though, preach the gospel. Don’t cower down to destruction. In the wake of the storm, point to Christ. Preach the gospel. It’s the only thing that can truly put a life back together. The blood of Jesus saves sin cursed people. The gospel is the best disaster relief there ever will be.


The Hunger Games

If you have not read these books but wish to, I suggest you not read this post. If you have read the books….

I won’t bore you rehashing the details. These books are fantastic. Intrigue. Love. Heroism. Suspense. Action.

It’s easy to understand why Suzanne Collins (or Aunt Suzanne as I sometimes refer to her) has taken the young adult and teenage readership by storm. The trilogy’s first part was published in 2008, the original 50,000 copies having doubled twice since then.

However, if you have read the Hunger Games Trilogy as a whole, there is something missing.

Book 1 – Leaves you hopeful

Book 2 – Leaves you confused but triumphant

Book 3 – Leaves you despairing in one key fact. Katniss failed.

She does not truly resolve her relationship with Peeta and Gail. Only through her arch enemy does she realize that she’s given control to a government who’s leader is as morally corrupt and power hungry as the last. Even after killing Coin, there is no firmly established government that believes itself to be able to enact permanent change. In fact Plutarch admits he thinks the “fickle stupid beings” will fail again. She is estranged from her mother. Haymitch goes right back to his drunken stupor. Gail’s fate is only mentioned in a line, and Katniss’ reaction to the absence of her life-long friend? RELIEF. All that to end the book with a page and a half long epilogue that declares “but maybe there is good in the world”. But you doubt it…you must…Suzanne has already done her job. And if there was any hope you had left you remember the one thing that destroys that whole philosophy.

Prim is dead.

Katniss failed. The very thing she set out to do, she can’t. She steps in, as a sacrifice for her sister, taking her place. But it wasn’t permanent, it wasn’t enough.

As a reader you should feel the emptiness that this brings. Don’t write it off as someone’s philosophy or personality and try to come to “grips” with it. There is something not right about the way this story ends.

As believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we know what the problem is sin. Collins’ paints a morbid but accurate picture of sin. But her worldview will not allow her to solve it. Almost unwittingly she presents Katniss as a saving figure. But that figure fails, her sacrifice is not enough.

Praise be, this is not how our story ends. Jesus Christ died, sacrificing himself for us, of his own choice, he took up the cross paying once and for all a PERMANENT price for our sin so that we would never have to die. As believers we have to recognize that people are looking for this solution, the solution of “savior” in everything but Jesus. We must bring them Jesus.

Those who do not have Christ are seeking something. They have the law of God written on their hearts. Deep down they know something is wrong. But they have been blinded. They seek after a savior in pornography, alcohol, government, materialism, until finally they are left with the conclusion that history is doomed to repeat itself and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

As pastors and believers, we need to recognize that this makes the task of spreading the name of Christ so very urgent. When we see the alcoholic who’s lost his wife, what he needs is Jesus. When we find the broken single mother who has just lost her job, what she needs is Jesus. It won’t take you long to convince them that their world is broken…they already know. It similarly won’t take much for them to admit that they’d love for it to be different. They have seen all the elements of the Gospel…Creator, Sin Death, Need to be Saved. The difference is that you have good news. A perfect sacrifice once and for all. You have the truth. He is the one that makes a dead heart beat again. His name is Jesus. He’s the River of Life. They don’t have to be thirsty. The Bread of Life.

They don’t have to be Hungry.

Missions – How?

How does someone become a christian?

Let’s look at Ezekiel 37

1 The hand of the LORD was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the LORD and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. 2 He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. 3He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign LORD, you alone know.”

4 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! 5 This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath[a] enter you, and you will come to life. 6 I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.’”

7 So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. 8 I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

9 Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the LORD have spoken, and I have done it, declares the LORD.’”

It would be tempting to stop after verse 10…to say they are living and breathing. After all, we can place ourselves in Ezekiel’s shoes and say, “we can preach the word, and we can even pray and ask the Lord to grant them true life.” However, lest we fall into the temptation to think that we somehow attained something, the Lord sets our hearts upon Him who truly deserves the Glory in verse 11. Only God can open the grave, having conquered it himself. Only the Lord God can put his spirit in a human being. We cannot control the spirit of God nor command it where to go. Our Lord is sovereign and thank goodness it is so.

A missionary once told me, “if I didn’t believe that God was the only one who could awaken a soul to life, I would leave the mission field right now.” This type of attitude comes from the realization that we are merely instruments. We do not save people for the Lord…the Lord brings people to himself. Sin is totally destructive. Therefore those who are lost need total reconstruction. Praise be to God He and He alone is mighty to pull them out of darkness into His marvelous light.

If sin and darkness hold us captive can another sinful man set one man free? Then how does a man get saved? There is only one explanation…and it doesn’t start with us…it starts like this

For God…..John 3:16

Missions – What?

“What are you going to say?”

“Not sure, I guess i’ll figure it out as I go.”

This conversation took place subconsciously between my dad and myself across the room from one another. We were packed in a 12×8 square foot room with nearly seventy-five others. In this abandoned soviet school, this was the only remaining room with a fire stove. At -5 outside, I deemed it a good location choice.  Suddenly, midst  the freezing cold, language barriers and new surroundings of this village , it became apparent that in the absence of their usual preacher, my father was being called upon to preach. There was no further instruction (at least that we could understand) but only to begin whenever he was ready.

I have no doubt that the idea of being ready was the furthest thing from my dad’s mind. His intention on this trek was to meet some new believers in an attempt to connect them with some already existing churches. Needless to say he was not “ready”. However, in perhaps the proudest moment I can recall of sitting under my father, he began to preach. There was no exegetical discourse, nor was there any attempt at alliteration. What proceeded from his mouth rather was an overflow of a heart that Christ had won, purchased and was always changing to be made more like him. Thus his word was simple, “Isn’t it great that we can have peace in Christ.”

After a few minutes of expounding, and reading a few verses, he sat down. There was no alter call, nor were there any conversions. What there were, however, were men and women who had lost their homes, livelihood, and families who heard a message of hope in the name of a Savior.

Once we reconcile that we MUST go…we must preach. It is difficult to feel qualified to do so. The call to preach the gospel seems overwhelming to us because often times we know not what to say, or how to say it. Whether it be in a village of Croatia or the city of Louisville KY, we have a temptation to try and provide the lost with something that will catch their eye, prick their ear, just enough to where they will come to church and perhaps they might be saved.

This is why Paul ends his thought in Romans 10 about going and preaching and hearing with the statement in verse 17, “So faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.”

We have not been commanded to go and preach anything other than the word of Christ. To know anything among the nations except Christ and Him crucified. Like the demon-possessed man, we are commanded to go “and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.”

What we have in Missions is the promise that it works. This word of Christ, and the message of what He has done for us…that IS the message the Holy Spirit uses to open eyes, and open ears, and open hearts to see Christ for who He truly is.

What are you going to say? You need not fear…Christ has said it. Merely preach what He has spoken.

“I have come to seek and save that which is lost”

The Death of a Saint

Wednesday, in the still darkness before the sun brought the world to life, a dear saint of God breathed her last breath. Death, sickness, and sin all seemed to win this one. Grief began to sit in, first in family members, then friends, and dear brothers and sisters in the faith who knew her well. There was, no doubt and rightly so, a sense of hopelessness in her lifeless body.

Something greater was happening in that body, though. Her sin cursed body was finished, but her Blood bought soul was freed. You see, at some point in her life, Mary Elizabeth Vann was seeking self righteousness, attempting to fix herself. In one instant, though, the Spirit of God fell on her, snatched her from the burning fires of death, and presented her with Christ, the One who bought her on the cross. In an irresistible moment of the purest grace, she ran into freedom in the kingdom of God.

The Lord began working in her, moving her new heart of flesh towards Himself. She grew in the knowledge and wisdom of the Word. The Great Comission wasn’t a story in a book, it was a command the Lord God had given her. She deeply desired that her brothers and sisters knew it was theirs too. The gospel must be advanced, and that task belongs to us.

Today we mourn that this one is gone. We talk of her passing and our laying her body to rest. The real truth though, is that this saint isn’t past. She’s more alive than we’ve ever been. She’s found rest, but it’s in the presence of Christ. Her body will continue to decay on this earth, but don’t stand too close when the Day comes. You see, that body’s coming up out of the ground and it’s going to be made new.
So friends, mourn that sin curses, but rejoice. We’re headed to endless freedom too. Life will be eternal, and everyday it will be greater than the day before.