Archive for the ‘On My Mind’ Category
Sooner or later nearly every church is contaminated by contention. Like cancer, it infiltrates furtively at first and goes undetected. But eventually, it metastasizes and permeates the body, resulting in severely depleted strength. Or death.
Paul used a lot of ink exhorting Christians to encourage one another, build each other up, love one another. He was following up on Jesus’ instruction: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34–35).
Satan’s most effective tactic for destroying a church is to infiltrate it with those who are divisive. He chooses intruders carefully: they are often persuasive, charismatic, invariably wearing a mask of love.
And they are toxic!
Don’t ever be influenced by destroyers of unity. They are contagious—a hazard to your spiritual health. “I urge you, brethren,” wrote Paul, “note those who cause division . . . and avoid them” (Rom 16:17).
If you give a sympathetic ear to the disrupter of unity, you become a partner in the crime of conflict. “[D]on’t invite him in and give him the run of the place. That would just give him a platform to perpetuate his evil way, making you his partner” (2 Jn 10–11 MSG).
Paul counseled Titus that after trying twice, “have nothing more to do with a person who causes conflict, because you know that someone like this is twisted and sinful” (Ti 3:10–11 CEB).
If you get sucked in by a divisive person, you will be polluted. Don’t bathe in dirty water.
Proverbs 6:16-19 tags seven things that are detestable to God; the final one being a person “who stirs up trouble among brothers.”
Don’t give a divisive person the keys to your church.
Friends or Foes?
Now, let’s switch gears and talk, not about church matters, but about those you hang out with. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, widely considered Germany’s greatest literary figure, said, “Tell me who you spend time with, and I will tell you who you are.”
You may think you’re strong enough to buck the pull of the profligate, but that’s naïve. The apostle Paul said it this way: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1 Cor 15:33 ESV).
The words and actions of those you spend time with influence your disposition, decisions, and direction. It goes both ways: “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prv 13:20).
The character of your companions rubs off on you, for good or bad: work behind the perfume counter, and you’ll smell like perfume; work in the fish market, and you’ll smell like fish.
Ask this question about the company you’re keeping: Is this relationship moving me closer to the Lord or further from him?
Nor is it just about personal relationships. You are also influenced by what you read, what you watch, where you go. The environment you choose sculpts you into its image. It’s been called “the proximity effect.”
Choose your company carefully. “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow evil men’s advice, who do not hang around with sinners, scoffing at the things of God” (Ps 1:1 TLB).
To Abram, God said, “Do not be afraid . . . I am your shield” (Gn 15:1).
To Joshua, God said, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Jo 1:9).
To Isaiah, God said comfort my people, telling them, “do not fear, for I am with you . . . I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you . . . (Is 41:10).
To his disciples, Jesus said, “my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (Jn 14:27).
Now, reread those four verses—but this time, insert your name in each as the recipient of the message.
God is just as powerful and concerned today as he was in the days of Abraham, Joshua, Isaiah, and Jesus?
Do you believe God is in charge: all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful? That’s a “yes” or “no” question, not a question with conditions attached: not, “Well, yes I believe that . . . but . . .”
Another question: Do you trust God to do the right thing? “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” asked Abraham (Gn 18:25). It’s a rhetorical question, the obvious answer being, “Of course he will.” Do you believe that?
When people listen to you talk, do they hear faith or fear? If they could read your thoughts, would they see serenity or despair?
Behavioral scientists assert that we see things that we’ve conditioned ourselves to see. If you’ve disciplined yourself to see God in control, that’s what you will see—you’ll be pleasant company and sleep well. If you’ve conditioned yourself to see doom and gloom, that’s what you will see—you’ll be unpleasant company and won’t sleep well.
Are you limping through life, worrying (synonym for fear) about everything from global warming to political corruption to catastrophic accidents to hangnails to you-name-it; refusing to face the uncomfortable truth that this deadly cancer is poisoning your faith? It’s not incurable but can be fatal left untreated.
Fear and worry suck the oxygen out of faith. When worry takes up residence in the mind, it resists sharing the space with faith.
God can change you if you’ll let him: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12:2). That’s an inward change that God can make in you . . . but he won’t make it without your consent and cooperation.
So clean out the garage; take the negative junk to the dumpster. Purge the closets; get rid of the old duds and put some color in your wardrobe—you’ve been wearing drab long enough.
You choose what you believe . . . and what you don’t believe. Go back to the top of this essay and drink a dose of those four verses again. Put some zip in your faith.
If you truly believe God is all-powerful and that he will do what is right, that’s quite enough to ensure a calm and peaceful life.
Let’s write a prayer together. I’ll start. You finish.
Dear God, Many things in our world—excuse me, Your world—seem to be falling apart. Please grant that our faith may not fail. Help us believe in you unconditionally. When our faith falters, remind us to say, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid” (Ps 56:3–4).
You take it from there . . .
A century or so down the road, if the Lord’s coming is delayed until then, people will look back at our time on this planet with as much fascination as we look back on the time of George Washington, Thomas Edison, or the Wright Brothers.
They’ll wonder what life was like for those of us who were alive when John Kennedy was assassinated, Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant, and Neil Armstrong became the first person to plant boots on the moon.
They’ll wonder what it was like to ride in a car that required a human driver and to fly the friendly skies in a tube that required a human pilot.
They’ll wonder what it was like before robots did the household chores, the refrigerator placed the grocery order, and ocean farming provided a big chunk of the world’s food supply.
They’ll wonder what it was like before 3D printers were as common and affordable as laptops, enabling ordinary mortals to sculpt a pair of shoes or a new kidney.
They’ll wonder what it was like before the DNA composition of patients was precisely mapped and medical treatment targeted to each individual.
And they’ll wonder what it was like in a world where average life expectancy was less than 100 years.
But those of us living in the here-and-now have a full plate navigating the next twelve months.
So cheers to a New Year and another chance to get it right.
It’s too late to change your past but not too late to change your future. At the beginning of a New Year, you have 365 blank pages—each to be scripted with God’s guidance: “his mercies begin afresh each day” (Lam 3:23 NLT). What plans does he have for you this year? Have you talked to him about that?
Time is beyond your control. You can’t bring it back once it’s gone. And you can’t stop its progress—can’t slow it down or turn it off. All you can do is use it. It’s like money in your pocket—you can spend it however you wish, but you can only spend it once.
With the flip of the last page of last year’s calendar, you buttoned down the end of what was and signaled the beginning of what is to be. You will be creating memories in this New Year. Make them good ones.
A lot of things happened in 2017 that you weren’t expecting. The same will be true this year. But that doesn’t mean you are left alone to helplessly face an uncertain future. “The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives. Though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord holds them by the hand” (Ps 37:23–24 NLT).
On Christmas Eve 1939, four months into the gloom of World War II, King George VI calmed jittery Brits in a BBC radio broadcast. He closed his oration with the preamble to Minnie Louise Haskins’ The Gate of the Year . . .
I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God,
trod gladly into the night.
As the old year died and the new one is born, surrender the old to history, and seek God’s guidance for the new.
Reach for his hand; put yours in his: “That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.”
Happy New Year!
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” —Matthew 2:1–2
♦ ♦ ♦
We know very little about these Magi [wise men]. In fact, all we know is in Matthew chapter two: they appear in verse one and disappear in verse twelve.
We don’t know for sure where they came from; just “from the east.” Most likely Persia or Babylon: in either case, a trip of close to 1,000 miles.
We don’t know how long it took them to make the trip. Best guess among commentators is about two years.
We don’t know if they travelled alone, or with an entourage. Probably the latter.
We don’t know how many there were. Every Christmas pageant you’ve seen and Christmas card you’ve received pictures three, an assumption based on the three mentioned gifts they brought: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. A Far Side cartoon had four instead of three—but they sent the fourth packing, because he brought fruitcake as his gift.
We do know that “Magi” was the name given to priests and wise men of the Medes, Persians, and Babylonians (see Daniel 2:12, 18, 24, 27; 5:7–8) and that they were students of the stars; experts in astronomy and astrology.
And we know they made a very long trip to pay homage to baby Jesus and worship him.
They didn’t know his name, or exactly where he was, but assumed that information would be easily obtained in Jerusalem.
When news reached Herod’s ears that these foreigners were asking, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” he was alarmed and laid plans to eliminate the pintsize competition. Herod’s M.O. was to execute anyone who was a threat to his throne. He orchestrated the murder of his brother-in-law, his mother-in-law, his wife, and his sons, among others. Now an old man, with only months to live, he was on the hunt for a wee baby.
Herod called a meeting of the chief priests and teachers of the law [scribes] and asked where Christ was to be born. The answer was a no brainer for these authorities in Jewish religion; they knew the prophecies regarding the Messiah by heart. He would be born in Bethlehem, they said, for that’s what the prophet Micah had announced seven hundred years earlier. That’s the information the king and the wise men wanted.
Bethlehem was only six miles from Jerusalem; less than a two hour walk.
So off went the wise men on this last leg of a long trip.
Wouldn’t you think the teachers of the law would tag along—if not outrun—the Magi to see this child of prophecy? They had been teaching about the coming Messiah for years. Now they hear that he has been born—just six miles south in Bethlehem—and not one of them slipped on his sandals.
Herod feared him. The Magi sought him. The scribes ignored him.
Six miles from the fulfillment of prophecy. Six miles from salvation. Six miles from eternal life.
Joy to the world, the Lord is come . . . Only six miles.
Let earth receive her King . . . Only six miles.
O come, all ye faithful . . . Only six miles.
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem . . . Only six miles.
O come, let us adore him . . . Only six miles.
Six miles from the Savior . . . Only six miles.
University freshman Ben Byrum was lonely.
Ben had been to a nearby church a few times but didn’t feel connected or wanted. He decided to go one more time. He would walk in and sit down. If no one spoke to him before the service started, he would walk out and not return.
A countdown timer at the front of the sanctuary indicated the time remaining before the service would begin; five minutes to go.
People wandered in, gathered in cliques, slapped backs, gossiped, chuckled. No one spoke to him. Occasionally someone looked his way. He hoped they would smile or nod; he would count that a greeting and stay. Didn’t happen.
With thirty seconds remaining, Ben got ready to leave. He would go back to his room and stay there alone for the rest of the day.
With fifteen seconds left on the countdown clock, his math professor, seated two rows in front of him, turned around, smiled and said, “I’m glad you’re here, Ben.”
He doesn’t remember the sermon or what hymns were sung. What he remembers is being noticed. “People may forget what you say,” said Maya Angelou, “but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
Don’t make the mistake of limiting this to Sunday morning church. Everyone wants to be wanted. Everyone needs to be noticed. Being ignored is rejection, pure and simple. And it hurts.
♦ ♦ ♦
A man in his thirties left his San Francisco apartment, walked to the Golden Gate Bridge, and jumped to his death.
A suicide letter, found on the dresser in his apartment said, “I’m going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I won’t jump.”
You have to wonder how far the walk was from his apartment to the bridge and how many people he passed on the way—any one of whom could have saved a life with a smile.
♦ ♦ ♦
At 9:00 p.m. on a November night in 2015, Desmond Powell was walking home from a basketball game in Manchester, New Hampshire. Approaching the Granite Street Bridge, he saw a man sitting on the cement railing over the Merrimack River, 100 feet below.
“Hey buddy, what are you doing?” Powell asked.
“I’m gonna jump,” the man said.
For the next ten minutes they talked, the stranger alternating between crying and staring at the churning black water below. “I’m having a rough time,” he said. “I don’t have a job, I’m hungry, and I’m addicted to heroin.”
Powell inched closer, expressed his concern and told him the two-year-old daughter he had told him about loved and needed him. He held out his hand. The fellow gripped it and climbed down.
“I’m Desmond,” Powell said. “Let me buy you something to eat.” They ate and talked. After a while, the man said, “Desmond, can you call the police so I can get help?”
Fifteen minutes later, the police arrived. As he climbed into the patrol car, he turned to Powell. “Thank you,” he said. “You are my hero.” (This story excerpted and edited from Reader’s Digest, September 2017.)
Today let it be your smile, your “hello,” your word of encouragement that makes someone’s day.
Scene I — AD 33 (John 18:17, 25, 26)
“For the third time,” said Peter, “I do not know this man, Jesus! How many times do I have to tell you?”
Scene II — Two Months Later (Acts 4:17–20)
“This court has reached a decision. We order you not to speak of this man, Jesus, again. We charge you to remain silent about him?”
“With all due respect, sirs, that isn’t going to happen,” said Peter. You crucified him, but God raised him from the dead. We must speak about what we have seen and heard.”
Fear caused Peter to deny Jesus. The resurrection caused him to defy those he had feared.
The crucifixion left Jesus’ disciples terrified. They huddled behind locked doors, fearing they would be next. That changed when he unexpectedly appeared, showed them his crucifixion wounds, and said, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day” (Lk 24:46).
They were never the same after that. Floggings, intimidation, threats, imprisonment, and death risks were powerless to silence them.
He had risen! He was alive!
Thomas spoke for them all: “My Lord and my God!”
Scene III — AD 1980
B.R. is in his usual pew. His business empire has expanded impressively through the years. He’s good—very good—at what he does. It demands his time and energy. But he’s always in church.
Why? Because his sensitive heart keeps reminding him that there is something more important than earthly achievement. He is determined to live so that it won’t be all over when it’s all over. He believes that Jesus died for his sins, was buried, and was raised (1 Cor 15:3–4).
And his response is: “My Lord and my God!”
Scene IV — Today
You don’t get to see him and his crucifixion wounds—at least not now. But your blessing is as certain as those who did. “Because you have seen me,” he said to Thomas,” you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection hasn’t changed your world, but it has changed you—beginning the moment you surrendered your life to him.
“[A]ll of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom 6:3–4).
A new life! Death of the old you; resurrection of the new you. Same old world; but brand new you. You wear the same clothes, travel the same streets, go to the same job, encounter the same people. These things haven’t changed. But you have!
At times, you still struggle with the old habits, battle the old disposition, wrestle with the old anxieties. But you gain strength as you go. With sins forgiven, earth’s appeal diminishes, and heaven’s increases.
Let Jesus’ promise sink into your soul: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (Jn 6:47 NKJV).
“My Lord and my God!”
Gus Niblack was already elderly when I met him; one of the best men I’ve known. When I’d ask how he was, he’d stiffen his spine, throw his head back and say, “The Lord has been partial to me!”
I don’t doubt it. God has often singled out specific people for favor.
In Old Testament days, he had his eye on some chosen individuals; favored them, blessed them, and used them.
There was Noah. God was fed up with human corruption and decided to wipe out the whole rotten bunch. “Noah, however, found favor in the sight of the Lord” (Gn 6:8).
God told Noah to build a boat. He was a farmer, not a carpenter. Building that boat chewed up decades of his life. When it was finished, he floated around in it for a year, shut in with a whole lot of togetherness with seven family members and a whole lot of animal manure.
There was Moses. God told him, “I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight” (Ex 33:12).
God told Moses to take the fight to Pharaoh, get the Israelites out of Egypt, and lead them to the Promised Land. Moses was a rancher, not a leader. He spent the next forty years—one-third of his life—herding a million impossible-to-please whiners.
Being favored by God is a high honor, but it doesn’t come with a promise of health, wealth, and happy days. When Noah and Moses said yes to God’s plan, they were saying no to their own.
When we turn the page and find ourselves in the New Testament, we meet up with Mary, mother-to-be of Jesus.
Angel Gabriel showed up at her door and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (Lk 1:28).
He told the mystified teenager that she was going to give birth to a son. “He will be great,” said Gabriel, “and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David . . . his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:31–33).
God favored Mary as he favored no other. But the price she paid for the honor was horrific. She was engaged to be married: had mapped her life in domestic frocks; a calm life in a quiet Nazareth neighborhood. With that knock on her door, she was faced with the probability of being dumped by her betrothed, shunned by her friends, and disowned by her family.
Nine months later, she made a miserable trip to Bethlehem to answer a government census call, gave birth to her baby in a barn, and made a rushed trek to Egypt to shield her child from Herod’s boy-baby death decree.
Thirty years after that, she watched her nomadic son throw together a ragtag team of nobodies. Own the throne of David? He doesn’t even own a donkey. His kingdom will never end? Will it ever even begin?
In another three years, Jesus grew intolerable, and Mary grew gray. Simeon’s prophecy that her soul would be pierced became terrifyingly true as she watched her son die the death of a criminal.
The only other time the Greek word citing God’s “favor” of Mary appears in the New Testament is in Ephesians 1:6, where we are told that God has “freely given” (favored) us with his grace in Christ. Mary was highly favored by God. Paul tells us that we are too.
Mary filled a unique role in God’s redemptive story. But saying yes to God’s plan meant saying no to her own.
We have been favored by God. The only way we can honor that favor is by being willing to say yes to his plan—and sometimes that may mean saying no to our own.
Hezekiah was a good man. He brought the nation of Judah back to God.
He refurbished the boarded up temple and opened it to worship.
He reestablished the service of the priests and Levites.
He reinstated the celebration of the Passover.
He pulled the plug on idolatry.
“[S]ince the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem” (2 Chr 30:26).
Of all the kings that descended from David, he was the greatest: “Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the Lord and did not cease to follow him; he kept the commands the Lord had given Moses” (2 Kgs 18:5–6).
So it was a punch in the gut to him and the nation when his health went south. He was in his prime—only thirty-nine years old when he got sick. God sent Isaiah to him with this terrifying message: “Put your house in order, because you are going to die; you will not recover” (2 Kgs 20:1).
Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed and wept. That touched God’s heart, and before Isaiah even got out of the palace court, the Lord told him to make a U-turn and beat it back to Hezekiah’s bedside and tell him he’d changed his mind: “I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you. . . . I will add fifteen years to your life” (2 Kgs 20:5–6).
God hears prayers and sees tears. And sometimes he changes his mind.
When the Israelites badgered Aaron to make a god to lead them, Moses was on the mountain receiving the Law tablets. God told him what his rebellious followers were doing, and said: “Now leave me alone so that my anger may turn against them and that I may destroy them.” Moses begged him not to: “Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. . . . Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened” (Ex 32:11–14). Moses entreated, and God relented.
There are times when we think God should intervene, but he doesn’t; or so it seems to us. But he always hears our prayers and always sees our tears.
Have any of your prayers caused God to change his mind? Maybe.
Before Hezekiah got sick, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, was flexing his muscles and threatening to sack Jerusalem. Hezekiah laid the matter before God, and God did a number on the evil king: defended Jerusalem and destroyed Sennacherib. Why? “Because you have prayed to me,” he told Hezekiah (Is 37:21).
It was soon after Sennacherib’s threat that Hezekiah was waylaid with that terminal illness. Again he prayed, and God responded, saying he would patch him up and tack an extra fifteen years on to his life.
Prayer is powerful. So here’s your Prayer Power Pack for today:
In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears (Ps 18:6).
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer (Rom 12:12).
Are any among you suffering? They should pray. . . . The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective (Jas 5:13, 16 NRSV).
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer (1 Pt 3:12).
When Hezekiah prayed, God changed his mind and reversed the verdict.
When you pray, God hears. When you weep, God sees. Your prayer might even cause him to change his mind.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky was twenty-eight when he was arrested for his vocal opposition of Tsarist Russia.
Sentenced to death by firing squad, Dostoyevsky was on the scaffold, soldiers with muskets at shoulder, when the execution was stayed. Tsar Nicolas I had commuted his sentence to ten years of exile, four of them in the prison camp in Omsk, Siberia.
At a way station en route to Omsk, a woman slipped a small New Testament into his hand. During his exile, “he studied the precious volume from cover to cover, pondered every word; learned much of it by heart,” said his daughter. “Throughout his life, he could never be without his old prison Testament, the faithful friend that had consoled him in the darkest hours of his life. He always took it with him on his travels and kept it in a drawer in his writing-table, within reach of his hand.”
The Parable of the Prodigal Son touched him deeply. That story, above all others, revealed to him the heart of the Father. Even in the dismal environment of Siberian exile, he wrote: “God gives me moments of perfect peace; in such moments I love and know that I am loved.”
The prison was unimaginably depressing. “In the summer it is unbearably hot,” he said; “in the winter unbearably cold. All the boards are rotten. On the ground filth lies an inch thick . . . The small windows are so frozen over . . . the ice on the panes is three inches thick. We are packed like herrings in a barrel. The atmosphere is intolerable: the prisoners stink like pigs: there are vermin by the bushel: we sleep upon bare boards.”
No wonder the Parable of the Prodigal Son impressed him: Siberia was his far country; the prison his pig pen. “It was amidst those stern and awful solitudes that he, a homesick and penitent Prodigal, found the road that leads to the Father’s house,” wrote F.W. Boreham.
In all of Dostoyevsky’s books, there are references to the words of that worn New Testament in which he discovered the Father’s love for his wayward children.
In her book about her father, Aimee Dostoyevsky told how his wife, Anna, knew when he was near death. The children gathered. “Taking our hands in his,” she wrote, “he had my mother read the Parable of the Prodigal Son.” With faltering voice, she read the story from the faded and tattered Testament that had been his constant comfort and companion.
“My children,” he said, “never forget what you have just heard. Have absolute faith in God and never despair of His pardon. I love you dearly, but my love is nothing compared with the love of God. Even if you should commit some dreadful crime, never despair of God. You are His children; humble yourselves before Him, implore His pardon, and He will rejoice over your repentance, as the father rejoiced over that of the Prodigal Son.”
A few minutes later, at 8:38, he died quietly, holding Anna’s hand.
Author Susan Hill noted the time of his death—8:38—and said, “Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Romans 8:38 says: ‘For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’”
Ralph Connor, in Sky Pilot, tells of a young man who deserted his Christian home in Scotland and beat a path to a far country of sin and shame. As he lay dying an early death due to his debauchery, he read a letter from his mother that had come to him that day. It ended: “And oh! Davie laddie, if ever your heart should turn homeward, remember the door stands widely open.”
That is the touching message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son: the loving Father keeps the door widely open, and the angels of God gather to joyfully welcome the prodigal who repents and returns.
William Cowper had a miserable childhood. His mother, his sole source of comfort, died when he was six, and he was hustled off to a boarding school where he was mercilessly bullied.
Cowper felt the guilt of sin more than most. By the time he reached his mid-twenties, he was so conscience-stricken that he twice attempted suicide. “My sin! My sin! Oh, for some fountain open for my cleansing!” he cried. He had heard of such a fountain, but couldn’t find it. He had heard of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, but couldn’t find him.
One morning he picked up a Bible from his table, randomly opened it and read: “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins . . .” (Rom 3:24–25).
“If the love of God be so great as to provide the lamb in the person of his son,” Cowper reasoned, “how could he be eager for the condemnation of sinners?”
His long-sought fountain was found. The Word had led him to the Lamb. Thus he wrote:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Destination: Mount Moriah. Abraham carried the fire and the knife. Isaac carried the wood, but saw something was missing: “Father . . . The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
“God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”
“Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him . . . ‘Do not lay a hand on the boy . . . Do not do anything to him’” (Gn 22:9–12).
For centuries, the question that must have bewildered believers was, “Where is the lamb?”
Multiplied thousands of animal sacrifices were offered, but worshipers knew they weren’t enough, for if they had been, there would have been a cessation of sacrifices. But there was no cessation; sacrifices had to be repeatedly offered, for the blood of animals could never permanently take away sin.
Then one day, a man sent from God appeared proclaiming the coming of Christ. When he saw Jesus he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29).
Three years after that, soldiers tramped the Via Dolorosa with spears and swords, mallets and nails, an altar . . . and the Lamb. On the very mountain of Abraham’s almost-sacrifice of his only son, God’s total-sacrifice of his only son was underway.
Where is the Lamb?
There! Stretched out on that cross-shaped altar.
No last-minute angelic intervention; no stay of execution.
We—you and I—are in the execution-chamber witness gallery. We see him as he looks at us and mouths the words, “This is how much I love you—I am doing this for you.” The Lamb is sacrificed for sin—our sin—once for all.
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.