Monday, December 18, 2017

An Old Man Named Zack

Christmas. 2017. TWO THOUSAND SEVENTEEN. Twenty centuries and seventeen years. Plus a few, based on more accurate calendaring.

Think about those days leading up to the most pivotal day since the world was created. More pivotal than when the sun moved backwards in the days of Hezekiah. More jarring than the time the sun stood still for Joshua. More life-changing than when the Lord God parted the Red Sea for Moses. All of this, and more.

The year before a silenced clock in heaven began to tick once more. The second hand moved, but not in the beat of 60 seconds per minute. It clicked off more slowly. Slow, but steady.

The Father summoned Gabriel, a trusted messenger. He told him it was time for the messages he was tasked with delivering. First, was an old priest, mostly shriveled up, but still serving the Lord. No retirement for this man. Besides his wife, Elizabeth, old Zacharias didn't have anything left to live for. There were no children in his home. He and Elizabeth were never able to conceive. The dreams of children were long gone. The pallor of a childless home hid behind the face of everyone who knew them. "Hi, Zack, Hi Betty. [Poor guys; they never had a child. I wonder what they did that God wouldn't give them a son?]"

The trustworthy old priest scurried about the holy place, doing whatever it was the priests had to do in that sacred room. In his case, it was burning incense on the altar that rested just before the veil into the holy of holies--the resting place of the ark of the covenant. What irony. The incense symbolized the prayers of God's people. Yet, here stood a man whose prayer for a son had never been answered. Yet...

Inside, Zacharias is offering the incense. Outside, men and women are praying at the same time.

I wonder if his hand was steady as he approached that altar? I wonder if a prayer was on his lips as he approached this very holy altar? In his surprising fashion, as Zacharias laid the incense on the altar, Gabriel suddenly appeared, just to the right of the altar. It's a good thing Zacharias had a good heart. Those sudden appearances can jar a person's heart.

This man is now paralyzed with fear. This is not a baby-faced little creature, holding a bow and arrow, or however they portray those things. This is a messenger of God! And he stands in his stately glory.

But Gabriel is a messenger of the God Who Comforts. And he brings a message on his behalf: "Don't be afraid. Your prayer for a son has been answered. You and Elizabeth will have a son."

An old wound in the old priest's heart has been ripped open. The disappointment of the years, scarred over, toughened by years of no answer in the time he and his bride prayed together, is now exposed. The root of bitterness that stinks like rotten eggs threatens to overpower the fragrance of the incense. Zacharias asks with unfettered disbelief (and maybe anger), "HOW WILL I KNOW THIS? I AM AN OLD MAN AND MY WIFE IS ADVANCED IN YEARS (he's wise to describe her that way)." Think about it. The priest in charge of the incense that represents the prayers of God's people has now begun to pray without faith. His God was too small. His God didn't care.

I cringe when I think of these words. I have heard them more than once; they were stated differently.

We can't build this, even with God's help!

If you don't plant churches according to our model, you will fail!

This church will never grow; get used to it!

But an old man's disappointments will not hinder God. Gabriel gave him a hard case of laryngitis. It lasted at least 9 months.

Tell me, would you be willing to suffer for a span of time if it meant God unfolded a plan for you that was even greater than your dreams? Or, are you so time and earthbound that you cannot see beyond your words and your dreams?

The day that split history was about to unfold. And God used an old man and an old woman to prepare the way.

Be willing to let God use you to prepare the way for His next event.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Life Really Does Matter

Today is the annual March for Life. This annual march began over 4 decades ago, and now involves hundreds of thousands who are pro-life. They come from all walks of life, too. Many are women; but there are a number of men involved, as well. There are Catholics and Calvinists, Protestants and Pentecostals, Baptists and Baby-boomers, Millennials and Mennonites, Jesus People and Jews. This group is Black, White, Asian, Latino, Arab, European, Indian, Native American---the list is too long to describe. And they are gathered in Washington because they want to send the message that life really does matter.

I have read the trend feed on Twitter today. Some of the comments from pro-death proponents have been ridiculous. Some are beyond the pale when it comes to language and description of those who believe life really matters.

I want you to know why life matters.

Life is a gift from God. It's not yours to take away from another. It's so precious that God even wrote a commandment about it. That commandment says everything you need to know: you shall not murder. Now, to be sure, I went back and read that just this afternoon. I did not see an exception for unwanted pregnancies.

Think about the words of Jesus. He said it's the thief who wants to kill and destroy. Jesus came to give life.

Life really does matter, ladies and gentlemen. Life is good. Love it. Celebrate it. Stand up for it. Fight for it.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

It's Day 366!

Happy Day 366!

You have survived another full year, plus a little (to compensate for our odd calendar). You took a breath, followed by another and another; your heart continued to beat, even if it beat irregularly (as does mine from time to time).

What's done is done. But take some time to evaluate what is done. Here are seven questions to ponder:

  • Did you meet your goals you may have set for 2016? 
  • Did you grow in your understanding of life?
  • Did you get up when you stumbled? Or are you are still wallowing in the grips of a momentary failure (if you are, get up now!)?
  • Did you have a regular time reading the Word of God and praying?
  • Did you learn something new about the Lord Jesus?
  • Did you share your faith in the Lord Jesus with at least one person?
  • Did you make any other difference in someone's life?
Here is a final question to answer: if the Lord Jesus chose to allow you to be removed from this present life and then summoned you to stand in His Holy and Righteous presence, and if He were to ask you why He should let you enter into His kingdom, what would you say to Him?

If you did not immediately reply that you trust in the Lord Jesus as the one and only way to be born again, then please consider that now. Jesus died for your sins, according to the Scripture. He paid the penalty for your sinfulness. Jesus was buried, according to the Scripture. And God raised Him from the dead, according to the Scripture. By "Scripture," we are speaking of the totality of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments.

The Bible teaches that if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9). The word "confess" means "to agree." So we are saying you must agree with God and God's Word that Jesus is Lord (God, Master, Owner). You must agree that Jesus paid the penalty for your sin and that God raised him from the dead. Yes, God raised the dead corpse of the Lord Jesus. And Jesus lives now to be Lord of your life.

Make that choice today--whatever day it is that you read this.

Happy Day 366! And Happy 2017!

Friday, December 23, 2016

It's Christmas; It's Also Hanukkah

Life is undoubtedly busy for you during these days. As it happens every year, your attention is divided between the daily rush of activities and the more harried rush of a holiday season. It is far too easy to get lost in the "art of busyness." So, slow down for a minute. Think with me about what we are celebrating.

It's Christmas. It is the First Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the fulfillment of old prophecies. 

It is the promise of new life.
                                                   Of salvation.
                                                                           Of hope.
                                                                                           And of peace.
"Glory to God in the highest!", sang the angels. "And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men."
Peace. Peace for your war-torn heart. Peace from the myriad voices that have assaulted you. Peace from the angry, terrifying black hole of depression that threatens to swallow you alive. Peace from living one more day, taking one more step, wondering if there really is any purpose for your life. 

Who would have thought that a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes would be the One who would calm the storms that swirl around you? Who would have dreamed that the wrinkled, red-faced, crying little fellow in a manger in an animal stall was actually the King of kings and Lord of lords, the Prince of Peace, your Wonderful Counselor? Mighty God! 

And the Light of the world. The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light...

Yes, the Light of the world. Which is why I am excited about Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. Jesus stood in the temple during that feast and exclaimed that He was the Light of the world. A Light for the nations (Is. 9:2). A Light unto my path. A Light of hope. A Light of peace. The Light to which all men must one day bow. 

This year, do not fear to tell the world, "Merry Christmas," for Christ has indeed come and one day soon will come again. And do not fear to tell your Jewish friends, "Happy Hanukkah," for the light they celebrate is the true light of the world, even if they are not yet aware of that fact. 

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

An Open Letter to the New President

Dear President Trump,

Congratulations on a hard-fought win that has taken everyone, but you, by surprise. I wish you the greatest of success in the 2017-2021 term you will serve. If I may, I want to give you some counsel you have undoubtedly already received.

First, make it your aim to please God, not man. Even though we voted, and enough of us voted for you to win the electoral college, it is ultimately God who establishes leaders. If you draw near to Him, he will draw near to you. The Lord God takes delight in answering those who call upon Him in Jesus' name. You have told us you are a Christ-follower. Pleasing God above all else is what Christ-followers do. Do not think that spending time in prayer and Bible study is a drain on your time. The wisdom you need is found in the pages of the greatest Book ever written.

Second, surround yourself with wise and moral men and women. And as you choose them, find those unafraid to disagree with you. You need to be able to see your important role from several angles. Given your success as a businessman has undoubted taught you that and much more.

Third, keep your word that you gave to us in your campaign. Seek to implement through Congress the proper legislation to fulfill your dream to "make America great again." Many--very many--of us are sick of the Executive Branch using executive orders to force an agenda down our throats. We do not want a monarchy; we want a representative republic.

Fourth, as you said early this morning in your acceptance speech, do all you can to unite this nation around the values that make it great. God will give you wisdom to know which points of discussion we can compromise on. After all, none of us has the perfect answer to all the woes that can plague a nation.

Fifth, I urge you to appoint a White House chaplain. Find a wise, godly man. You and the hundreds you employ will need  his counsel more often than you realize.

Finally, for anyone reading this, I urge you to give hold this man up in prayer. His role will be challenging. He needs the prayers of God's people. Whether you voted for him, or not. pray for this man and his family.

Once more, many heartfelt congratulations on your victory.

Respectfully yours,

Kevin Shearer, D. Min.

Friday, October 14, 2016

America's Lose-Lose Election Is a Win-Win for the People of God

Let me be clear: I will vote, Lord willing, on November 8th. I will not shirk my privilege that so many died to let me have. Our nation is the most unique in all of history--at least known history, from the Romans to today. So, not to vote, not to take advantage of this unique privilege, is a travesty perpetrated upon the lives of those who enabled this great nation to exist.

That being said, this is the election that appears to be a lose-lose election for the United States of America. On the one hand, we have a lying, cheating, power-hungry candidate who will stop at nothing to win. On the other, we have a lecherous, leering, loud-mouth who will stop at nothing to win. Both will tell the public whatever they believe they need to in order to be elected. Both will wave the excrement-filled diapers of the other. Both engage in a level of vitriol not seen in our lifetime. I understand from some history sources that some 19th Century candidates were equally vicious towards one another. That time period notwithstanding, we are acting like lawless, barbarous, buffoons.

Deep lines appear to have been drawn in the sand. Did I call those lines? Perhaps it would be better to call them crevices. There is a fast-growing divide that threatens even the church. I seldom agree with men like Glen Beck; but he has said it well when he said that this election has injected poison into the church. Take what Mr. Beck says with a little salt; but know he has made a good observation.

For those among us who say that the future of the nation is at stake; that if the candidate currently leading in the polls wins, we will have set a future of activism from the judicial bench and socialism from congress and the White House, I agree. We are on a dangerous path. And we do well, as a church, to warn against it.

For those who tell us to keep our opinions to ourselves and let this play out according to the Sovereignty of God, in part, I agree. No one, neither you nor I, will change the sovereign plans of God. He is Narnia's Lion, who does what he wishes. It is not my business to guess what the sovereign plan of God is for the United States and then vote to make that happen. But to be quiet and let things play out is a stoic fatalism that does not characterize true Christianity. Christians must be a voice for righteousness.

So, barring something heretofore unseen, there will be an election on November 8th. And one of two ill-fitted candidates, both of whom John Piper said should drop out, will be elected. And for America, the choice is not good. Period.

But it is a win-win for any and all who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Why, some may ask, would I dare make such a statement? Let me explain, please. If God hears the cries and prayers of many Christ-followers who have prayed for years for God to stop this tide of unrighteousness that characterizes the laws of this land, then perhaps that means this nation will slowly turn away from the legalization of so many sinful things. Perhaps we Christ-followers will see this nation survive a few more years so that we can continue to send out men and women to the lost around the world (which is one of the primary reasons, I believe, that we exist in the first place).

If, however, God allows the unChristlike forces to prevail, then it may mean that the church will have to shine more brightly than ever in the darkness of American society. I believe many, if not most, churches will be even smaller than before, because many will leave the church in disagreement over its clear moral stance. I also believe, though, that such a "purging" will present to the world a clear choice. There won't be such a confusion of the fabric of culture and the fabric of Christianity.

And who knows? It may also be that such a loss portends the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. It could be that the unChristlike forces win because Jesus is about to rapture the church from this world and prepare us for His coming kingdom.

Any way you look at it, for Christ-followers this is a win-win time.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Turmoil of Broken Fellowship: thoughts from my notes on James 4:11-12

I am preparing for Spanish worship at this juncture. We are studying The Letter of James, a study we celebrated earlier this year at our church. These are my notes from chapter 4:12-12 -

There is something refreshing about fellowship between believers. Believers should be in harmony with one another. The Psalmist called such harmony good and pleasant (Ps. 133:1). Fellowship reflects the perfect unity between the godhead. When one of the Triune God speaks, he speaks in perfect harmony with the other persons of the godhead.

Believers, thanks to the old nature, have an unholy tendency away from such fellowship. Our words too often tend towards slander. At the drop of a hat we can open our mouths and speak against one another. James tells his readers to stop doing that. The wording used is one that means to backbite, or to tear another to pieces. MacArthur described it as mindless, thoughtless, careless, critical, derogatory, untrue speech directed against others.[1]  In all likelihood, such a cruel activity would take place out of the presence of the person being verbally shredded.

Yet God teaches that the mark of a godly man is that he refrains from speaking against others (Ps. 15:3), while it is the mark of an ungodly man that he slanders others (Ps. 50:19-20). Solomon even warned about going around with talebearers (Pr. 20:19).

I suppose in heaven we will finally learn just how many walked away from the church because of a poisonous, backbiting tongue. We will learn then how many died bitter and broken, poisoned by their own lips as they attacked others. Historians recorded that David Livingstone’s wife died of a broken heart from the backbiters of the white settlements in Africa. The dripping sewage of a backbiting tongue only serves to show just what wickedness can arise from the human heart.

For James’ readers, two things were happening: by speaking against one another, they were speaking against the Law and they were condemning the Law. Can there be a more dangerous place than that of elevating oneself above the Law of God? Can we, who are imperfect, place ourselves in the position of speaking harshly against and criticizing—even condemning—that perfect Law of God? According to Phillips, It is the work of the Spirit of God to apply the Word of God to the consciences of the people of God. That is not our work but God’s work.[2]

If we are in the position of speaking against and condemning the Law, we have also chosen to speak against and condemn the Lawgiver. There is one who did that in the most evident of ways; his name is Lucifer. He declared in Isaiah 14 that he would be like the Most High God. He was soon cast down. One day Lucifer will be forever cast away, because there is only one who can save and only one who can truly destroy. It is in the power of the Sovereign, Omnipotent God, not us.

[1] MacArthur, 221
[2] Phillips, 147