Holy Week – Friday – Good Friday

Matthew 27:1-61; Mark 15:1-47; Luke 23:1-56; John 18:28-19:42

Good? This is the day we remember Jesus’ death on the cross. How can something so terrible be good? Well…. it was the terrible price that God paid so that we (sinners) could be in relationship with Him. We are better off and have been given forgiveness and new life as a result of His great loss. Jesus’ loss was our great gain. It wasn’t so “good” for Jesus, but it was more than “good” for us. Good Friday.

Here’s what happened:

Throughout the night on Thursday, the chief priests arrested Jesus and then rushed Him around to a few places trying to get permission to have Him killed. They see Caiaphas and then Pilate who then sent them to Herod so he wouldn’t have to deal with the situation. However, Herod didn’t have the authority to execute Jesus, so he sent him back to Pilate. In the end, Pilate reluctantly agreed to the demands of the crowd and sentenced Him to death.

The story becomes pretty gruesome at this point. Jesus is beaten with a flagrum (whip) that had shards of glass and bone at the end of several leather straps. He receives 39 lashings which would tear up His body. (often enough to kill someone or make them unconscious) They put a crown of thorns on His head and mock Him and then force Him to carry His own crossbar (easily 100 pounds) to the place of execution. Once there, spikes were driven through His hands and feet and He was hung on the cross. At that point, there was more mocking, and one of the other criminals being crucified defended Him. Jesus told him that he’d be with Him in paradise. Ultimately, Jesus died from suffocation.

A man named Joseph of Arimathea got permission to take Jesus’ body and with the help of some women who prepared spices, he buried Him in a tomb cut in stone.

As they buried Jesus’ body, the disciples and all of His followers were in disbelief. They had believed that He would be their salvation. They had believed that He would be a conquering King and would restore Israel to it’s rightful place among the nations. As Jesus breathed His last breath, their dreams died. All they had hoped for was destroyed. Their friend was gone. Their hearts were broken.

 

Great Good Friday Song: God Rested – Andrew Peterson

Confess with Your Life

life speak“Confess with your mouth that Jesus is LORD and you will be saved……” Romans 10:9

Christians have used this verse over the years to get people “saved.” Unfortunately, I feel like some have missed the point. It’s not just the confession with the mouth that saves. Words are not enough. There’s more to it than that. It is the faith which accompanies these words that brings salvation. In it’s context, Paul wrote this verse to Romans, who could be killed for saying these kinds of things. They were coming up against the political systems in their culture and this statement would have been considered treason. They were risking their lives to make this confession. The verbal confession was not just a statement. It would have been attached to the rest of their lives. Anyone who made such a claim carried a faith which was expressing itself, not just with words but with a willingness to risk their very lives for this belief. Jesus is LORD.

We must confess with our LIVES that Jesus is LORD. Yes, confessing with our mouths is a huge part of it, but confessing with your life involves more – everyday decisions and sacrifices as well as boldness and taking risks in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is worthy of so much more than just a few words. He humbled Himself, and died on a cross for my sins. The only proper response to that kind of love is to give Him my all, my life. And even that’s still lacking if you think of it as repayment. It doesn’t matter what we give. We still come up short. It’s only by His grace through faith that we are saved.

CONFESS WITH YOUR LIFE! (and your words)

Place of Grace – Meridian – for my children

I never finished this, but it was an idea for a poem or song or something to give to my children. It expresses the things I plan to share with my kids when I take them to visit Meridian State Park someday. I’ll tell them the story of how I came to know Jesus. I’m so excited about that day! These words capture some of the emotions I feel as I think about telling them.

Anyway, maybe I’ll finish it someday, but I wanted to go ahead and post something so I wouldn’t lose it.


This is a couple of years after I came to know Christ, but it still floods my mind with memories of that day. Lots of the same people in this pic.

Come let me show you this place, this place full of grace.
Come let me show you the spring where we sat and listened to the quiet
And the outcropping where we waterbombed the bus.
Let’s go walk the carpet of bluebonnets
and run past the bees on the trail of Mesquite
As a child I ran these trails and stepped on a snake
These vines scratched my legs but helped heal me too.

We played frisbee golf and waterballoon volleyball
Chased Bulldog to soak him
James Garner taught us the Scriptures under the tree.
Ross Senter spoke around the campfire.

Let me show you the grace in this place.

Come watch the horizon swallow the sun
Breathe in the lights. See the milky way run
From up on the ledge and above the lake
Lets watch the sky. and see the stars come awake.

Come hear distant voices from the lake down below
Let’s sit and sing and wait – take it slow
If we’re lucky we’ll see a star fall from space
Here in this place – this place full of grace

And this is where I sat and sang and cried
Around the campfire On the night I gave my life to Christ.

This place is so dear. It’s a place I want you to know
Whether this place or that place, I want you to have your own place full of grace.

Look

Check out Charles Spurgeon’s conversion story in his own words.

I sometimes think I might have been in darkness and despair until now had it not been for the goodness of God in sending a snowstorm, one Sunday morning, while I was going to a certain place of worship. When I could go no further, I turned down a side street, and came to a little Primitive Methodist Chapel. In that chapel there may have been a dozen or fifteen people. I had heard of the Primitive Methodists, how they sang so loudly that they made people’s heads ache; but that did not matter to me. I wanted to know how I might be saved, and if they could tell me that, I did not care how much they made my head ache.

The minister did not come that morning; he was snowed up, I suppose. At last, a very thin-looking man,* a shoemaker, or tailor, or something of that sort, went up into the pulpit to preach. Now, it is well that preachers should be instructed; but this man was really stupid. He was obliged to stick to his text, for the simple reason that he had little else to say. The text was,—

“LOOK UNTO ME, AND BE YE SAVED, ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

He did not even pronounce the words rightly, but that did not matter. There was, I thought, a glimpse of hope for me in that text. The preacher began thus—”My dear friends, this is a very simple text indeed. It says, ‘Look.’ Now lookin’ don’t take a deal of pains. It ain’t liftin’ your foot or your finger; it is just, ‘Look.’ Well, a man needn’t go to College to learn to look. You may be the biggest fool, and yet you can look. A man needn’t be worth a thousand a year to be able to look. Anyone can look; even a child can look. But then the text says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Ay!” said he, in broad Essex, “many on ye are lookin’ to yourselves, but it’s no use lookin’ there. You’ll never find any comfort in yourselves. Some look to God the Father. No, look to Him by-and-by. Jesus Christ says, ‘Look unto Me.’ Some on ye say, ‘We must wait for the Spirit’s workin’.’ You have no business with that just now. Look to Christ. The text says, ‘Look unto Me.'”

Then the good man followed up his text in this way:—”Look unto Me; I am sweatin’ great drops of blood. Look unto Me; I am hangin’ on the cross. Look unto Me; I am dead and buried. Look unto Me; I rise again. Look unto Me; I ascend to Heaven. Look unto Me; I am sittin’ at the Father’s right hand. O poor sinner, look unto Me! look unto Me!

When he had gone to about that length, and managed to spin out ten minutes or so, he was at the end of his tether. Then he looked at me under the gallery, and I daresay, with so few present, he knew me to be a stranger. Just fixing his eyes on me, as if he knew all my heart, he said, “Young man, you look very miserable.” Well, I did; but I had not been accustomed to have remarks made from the pulpit on my personal appearance before. However, it was a good blow, struck right home. He continued, “and you always will be miserable—miserable in life, and miserable in death,—if you don’t obey my text; but if you obey now, this moment, you will be saved.” Then, lifting up his hands, he shouted, as only a Primitive Methodist could do, “Young man, look to Jesus Christ. Look! Look! Look! You have nothin’ to do but to look and live.” I saw at once the way of salvation. I know not what else he said,—I did not take much notice of it,—I was so possessed with that one thought. Like as when the brazen serpent was lifted up, the people only looked and were healed, so it was with me. I had been waiting to do fifty things, but when I heard that word, “Look!” what a charming word it seemed to me! Oh! I looked until I could almost have looked my eyes away. There and then the cloud was gone, the darkness had rolled away, and that moment I saw the sun; and I could have risen that instant, and sung with the most enthusiastic of them, of the precious blood of Christ, and the simple faith which looks alone to Him. Oh, that somebody had told me this before, “Trust Christ, and you shall be saved.” – Taken from Charles H. Spurgeon: His Faith and Works, H.L. Wayland, 1892.

God used a snowstorm to keep a pastor from making it to a service so that another preacher would be there for Spurgeon to hear the exact words that He needed in order to be saved. “Look.”

John 3:14-15msg

“In the same way that Moses lifted the serpent in the desert so people could have something to see and then believe, it is necessary for the Son of Man to be lifted up—and everyone who looks up to him, trusting and expectant, will gain a real life, eternal life.”

Numbers 21:4-9msg

They set out from Mount Hor along the Red Sea Road, a detour around the land of Edom. The people became irritable and cross as they traveled. They spoke out against God and Moses: “Why did you drag us out of Egypt to die in this godforsaken country? No decent food; no water—we can’t stomach this stuff any longer.”

So God sent poisonous snakes among the people; they bit them and many in Israel died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke out against God and you. Pray to God; ask him to take these snakes from us.”

Moses prayed for the people.

God said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it on a flagpole: Whoever is bitten and looks at it will live.”

So Moses made a snake of fiery copper and put it on top of a flagpole. Anyone bitten by a snake who then looked at the copper snake lived.

Look my friends. LOOK upon Jesus. In Him, you will find everything. You will find salvation. You will find peace. You will find truth and light and life. Look upon Jesus and be saved!

Mr. Corn’s Opus

I had a bit of a “Mr Holland’s Opus” moment this past weekend – you know. . .the moment at the end of the movie where all his ex-students come together to honor/minister to him.

Sonya and Tori playing with Kasen
Sonya and Tori playing with Kasen

Some ex-youth (Is that OK Lorel?) drove down to Lake Jackson to hang out. Sonya Wiggins Hunt and Tori Gracey had heard about our job situation and decided that they would drive down to support Miranda and I. Wow! It’s a beautiful thing (and humbling) to have the very same students that you poured yourself into years ago show up to minister to you. In the past, I ministered to them. Sunday, I was the recipient of their ministry. The script may have been flipped, but the author if that script is still the same – and He’s a great writer.

He has truly done some incredible things in and through their lives.

Sonya has finished school, gotten married and is incredibly active in her church. The pastor has even asked she and her husband to help them plant another church. She has also been a part of a program which works to create community in apartment complexes – taking the Good News to her own neighbors. She told an incredible story about her brother-in-law. He is in the hospital in critical condition after being beaten and shot by members of a gang. She and her husband stood at his bedside and shared the gospel with him. He was unable to respond with anything but his eyelids, but when given the opportunity he gave his life to Christ literally with the blink of his eyes. Sonya is a minister. She takes Jesus to everyone she touches as she lives her life.

Tori is now a teacher in one of the most difficult school in Houston. Her students include a 16 yr old girl who had a miscarriage after 8 months of pregnancy. One day, some students were asking her where she kept her Bible ’cause they wanted to look something up. She asked what they wanted to know, and by God’s grace, it was a verse that Tori and had memorized in her Jr High years when we did a specific study together. She quoted the verse to them and they were shocked. These students come to Tori to talk about their lives. They know she loves and cares for them. They know she’s a Christian. They trust her. She has earned their respect. Tori is in full-time ministry.

Tori and Sonya may not work in the church, but their work is more like that of a missionary – one who takes the Gospel to the people.

Anyway, spending time with Sonya and Tori was truly a joy. As they shared the things God has been doing in their lives and a few of the stories where they were able to be a part of His work, I felt like Mr Holland. I was proud. Proud of who they had become. Proud that I was able to be a small part of their lives. Proud to serve a God who is so active in our lives. Excited to imagine what the future (which is in God’s amazing hands) holds for each of us.

Prayer: God, thank you for Sonya and Tori. Thank you for revealing yourself to them and for the commitment that they have for you. Thank you for your presence and guidance in their lives. Thank you for the opportunities that You give to them. Thank you for placing them in these jobs/positions where You can use them in such mighty ways. Lord, continue to be with them and make your presence known so they can operate in confidence throughout their lives. Keep them close to You and to each other. AMEN.

Simon Says

Whoa!! I came home from a rough day @ church last night and found the most amazing e-mail awaiting me.

Simon - back when I knew him.
Simon - back when I knew him.

Simon was a “hard headed punk kid that had it all figured out.” Those are his words but I’d say they’re pretty accurate. I was the leader for a youth ministry skating outreach program called “The Wave.” In those days, we typically had between 70 and 150 youth, but every one of my volunteers knew Simon. He was loud. He was disrespectful. He did whatever he could to be the center of attention – even if the attention was negative. The volunteers and I prayed for Simon pretty regularly and discussed how we could keep being witnesses to him without letting him railroad us. He was tough. We didn’t have very many answers – just prayers.

I think it’s been about 7 years. Anyway, here are some pieces of what he wrote to me:

Steve,

It’s Simon Holloway from Tomball. How are you doing brother?

Wait. . . .Did he just call me “brother?”

I was thinking about you today and the influence you had in my life, when I was younger. . . I sincerely want to thank you for showing me grace and spreading the word with me. . . About 2 months ago I was saved and for the first time had a better understanding about Him and Jesus. After that happened I thought about you many times and you inspired me. I knew it was all real because I had proof from another source, and that was you. It’s all because I think of an old time at The Wave when I was cussin at you and just being a pain in the rear for everyone up there, I was thinking you were coming to rip me a new one when you came and talked to me and gave me grace. It’s almost like in the Bible when they bring the woman who is caught for adultery and they’re expecting Jesus to get mad. Instead Jesus gives grace like he always does and I now see that in you, today.

Whoa! I sure don’t remember that incident. All I really remember is wondering how I could try to be Jesus to him when I really wanted to “rip him a new one” – Had I done it, I would have done exactly what he expected and I would have lost any influence I had with him. Wow! Only by God’s grace did I do the right thing – the thing that he remembered and that made the difference in his life. Had I reacted on my own emotional influences, I would have played right into his misconceptions of God. I guess in some ways, this whole thing sounds sort of like I’m bragging, but what I’m trying to say is that I know how close I was to doing the wrong thing and that God’s power. . . His Spirit is the only thing that made a difference. I want to brag for sure, but on God, not on me. God is amazing!!

Well Steve, I just wanted to thank you a lot and let it be known what you did for me when I was younger and now. . . . I will definitely be praying for you bro and I know God will show you grace in the situation!

Talk to you soon.

Simon

God got a hold of Simon!!!!! Whoa. That’s an e-mail I would have never imagined receiving. If Saul could become Paul, I guess Simon could become a Christian too, but. . .well, sometimes those ministry days seemed unfruitful. They were hard. We kept trying, but it just didn’t seem like we were getting anywhere. I can look back now and see that’s true. We weren’t getting anywhere – BUT GOD WAS!! He used those times and used us in spite of our ignorance. In spite of ourselves.

Man, I love these kinds of stories. We serve an incredible God!!! He is amazing! His power is ultimate and intimate and infinite! He can and does move people’s hearts. (Both Simon’s and mine that day.) He gives us the strength to follow Him even when we don’t feel like it. He can take a hard headed punk and turn him into a humble servant. He is over all and above all and through all. He is God. He is Yahweh! He is our strength, our redeemer, our salvation, our joy, our light, our love. He is love! He gives love! His character is love!

Prayer:Lord, thank you for Simon. Guide him deeper into your presence. Hold him close to You and draw him close to other believers who will truly disciple him. Use him for Your eternal works and for Your glory! Thank you God for sending this message to me. As You know, it was perfect timing. I needed it. Thank You for choosing me for that time and place in ministry. It was an honor to have been a part of such amazing blessings and to have worked with so many incredible volunteers and students. Lord, hold me close and guide me deeper into your presence. I love You and truly can’t imagine this life without You. I need You.You’re are amazing and it’s not just me that thinks so. . . “Simon says” too! AMEN!

PS – Simon gave me permission to repost his e-mail. He even said, “Never know, it could make an impact on someone else life.”

Lordship Salvation

CrossLordship Salvation is the idea that in order to be saved, one must receive Jesus as both Savior and Lord. Belief in Christ is not enough, but good works are required. The guys who ascribe to this view would describe saving faith as repentance (turning from sin) plus faith (turning to God). They also say that to receive Christ, means to receive His whole person, which includes His roles as both Savior and Lord. John Stott says, “The call of God in the gospel is not just to receive Jesus Christ, but to belong to Him, not just to believe in Him, but to obey Him.”

Now, the guys who oppose this view are called “Free Grace” guys. They point to the Scriptures that speak of salvation as a “gift.” There is nothing one must do to earn it. No “good works” are required. They point to Acts 2:38 which says that we must only “repent” before we can be baptized and brought into the fellowship.

My own opinion actually finds its’ strength in 1 Corinthians 3 where Paul speaks of the “carnal” man. It’s clear that this man is saved, but also that he is not living with Christ as “Lord” of his life. Now, if he is saved but Christ isn’t Lord of his life then, “saving faith” must not require “Lordship.” There is no such thing as a “Carnal Christian” if Lordship Salvation is true.

When we went over this in class, our professor also described a 3rd view which he called “soft Lordship.” This view says that once a man is saved (by repentance alone), the Holy Spirit would begin to work on him and there would be “good works” or fruit to being to appear. It may be as small as a feeling of conviction which he never had before, but it’s still fruit. The idea is that Christ would begin to become “Lord” from that day forward.

Here’s the summary:

Lordship Salvation: Faith + works/fruit = salvation

Free Grace: Faith = Salvation and works/fruit may or may not follow.

Soft Lordship: Faith = Salvation and works/fruit will follow.

I think I’d have to put myself in the “soft Lordship” category. I believe that a “Carnal Christian” is just one who’s “works” have not had time to start showing up on the outside. In regards to the “Free Grace” view, I have a hard time believing that the Holy Spirit’s presence doesn’t make any difference.

How does this make a difference in my life?

There’s a part of me that is really comforted by knowing that the Holy Spirit’s work in us, might not be very evident to the onlooker. In my years of youth ministry, I
have seen many kids “walk the aisle” to receive Christ and then go for years with no evidence that it made any difference. Sometimes I watch them make decisions which clearly would not honor God. Jesus is definitely not “Lord” for them. It’s comforting to know that faith alone is sufficient. I will continue to teach and encourage His Lordship, but will also seek out the small, subtle things that the Holy Spirit might be doing within them. I think that this understanding of grace, makes me more gracious.

(Info from “Must Christ be Lord to Be Savior” by Everett Harrison and John Stott – also from “How Faith Works” by S. Lewis Johnson Jr., and “A Critique of Lordship Salvation Debate” by Charles E. Powell)

Freewill or Predestination?

FootprintsThis one is a really a tough argument because both sides can be argued with integrity from the Scriptures. My best guess is that this particular issue is much like Brian McLaren describes in “A New Kind of Christian.” (I don’t agree with him all the time, but I like this illustration.) In his book, one of the characters was describing how men pick differing points on a line to argue their stances/viewpoints. He then wondered if God was not on the line at all, but hovering somewhere over the line in another dimension. I think that must be the way it is with this particular argument. The truth (God) is not on our line of predestination or freewill at all, but hovering somewhere over our imaginations – beyond our understanding. As the Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways, my ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Here are the differences:
Calvinism/Predestination/Sovereignty
1. Total Depravity – Before they are saved, men are completely dead in their sins and unable to even come to God without His intervention.
2. Unconditional Election – God chooses who he will save.
3. Limited Atonement – Jesus died to save the elect.
4. Irresistible Grace – God gives a special saving grace to the elect that they will not be able to reject.
5. Preservation of the Saints – Once saved, always saved.

Arminian/Freewill
1. Depraved – Before they are saved, men are depraved in every area of their lives, but still able to choose good/God.
2. Conditional Election – God chooses who He will save based upon his foreknowledge of their choices.
3. Unlimited Atonement – Jesus died to save everyone/the world.
4. Resistible Grace – God offers a special saving grace to all men, but he can resist.
5. No preservation – Man can lose his salvation.

I would consider myself a 4 point Moderate Calvinist: Here what I mean:
I agree with points 1, 2, 4, and 5 of Calvinism, but completely disagree with 3 (Limited atonement) and number 1 needs an explanation. Let me explain each one for me:

1. Total Depravity – If one is completely dead, he cannot even choose God. This would mean that the work of salvation is completely God’s work. This is called “monergism.” Scripture seems clear that it is a complete work of God, but it’s also pretty clear that man’s decision matters somehow. This view is called a “synergism” of God’s work with man’s decision. This is the difference in a Dutch Calvinist (hardcore) and a Moderate/Princeton Calvinist who believes that man does still have some responsibility in it all. The moderate would say that “God woos men” to Himself, but that man still chooses. Here’s the summary of the depravity issue:

Arminian – Man chooses God.
Moderate Calvinist – God woos man.
Dutch Calvinist – God rapes man. (God chooses man in spite of his decision or opinion.)

I’m a moderate.

2. Unconditional Election – It is completely God’s choice who he will save. There are no conditions or works that man must accomplish.

3. Unlimited Atonement – This is where I completely disagree with the Calvinist view. This is also the most popular point in which people disagree. Scripture seems clear that Jesus died for everyone.

4. Irresistible Grace – This is not to say that God doesn’t give grace to everyone – He clearly does – Rain falls on the crops of the saved and the unsaved. All are given breath, and life, etc. This is speaking only of the saving grace which God chooses to give to the elect. They may reject it for a while, but since God’s plan can not be frustrated, he will eventually respond properly to His offer. If God could be resisted, then he must not be sovereign, because he couldn’t accomplish His own plan.

5. Preservation of the Saints – This is the once saved, always saved idea. You cannot lose your salvation, because that would mean that salvation was not God’s work. Your works/lifestyle can not make you lose your salvation, because they had nothing to do with it in the first place. You were saved because God chose to save you, and He doesn’t change his mind. He knew what He was doing when He chose to save you.

There you go. I’m sure there are all kinds of flaws in my logic and understanding ’cause I just don’t have a really good grasp on it all, but this is just where I find myself at this point in my life.

How is my life different because of this concept? I’m not sure. It certainly affects my view of Christianity and also of the world, but in trying to live out my faith, it doesn’t change much on a daily basis. My wife and I disagree on this issue and have chosen not to speak of it, because it just causes division between us. I hope that sometime we can really work to come to a solution, but the truth is that it really doesn’t come up very often, and it hasn’t affected our relationship too much. I do believe it’s gonna be an issue as we raise Kasen. (He’s due Oct 30th). By the time he starts asking those kinds of question, it’s my prayer that we can have a united common view regarding this issue.

(Info from “Man’s Destiny:Free or Forced” by Norman Geisler, also from “The Potter’s Freedom” by James White, Also from “Arminianism or Calvinism” by Steele and Thomas)