jasonbwatson

May 30, 2016

Memorial Day

Memorial Day is a day set aside in the United States to remember those who have given their lives in service to our country—who have served in the Armed Forces to protect the freedoms that we enjoy as citizens of the United States of America. It is, to borrow words from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, “altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

I grew up just a few miles outside of Washington, D.C., and as someone who loves politics and U.S. history I have always loved much of what that city has to over. I have taken my children into D.C. several times, and they enjoyed it too, for the most part, though they did grow tired of all the walking. Most anyone who visits Washington, D.C. will see several of the most recognizable monuments in the city: the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and the World War II Memorial. There are many others in D.C. and in other places around the country—particularly in places of historical significance. Visiting these monuments with my children provided me with an opportunity to tell my children about why the monuments had been erected, about the people and events they were there to remember and honor and about the freedoms we enjoy because of them. That, of course, is exactly why the monuments are there.

I am not going to write about the monuments to important events in our nation’s history, however, nor about the sacrifice that has been paid by the men and women who have served in our military and given their lives in defense of our nation. Instead, I want to talk to you about a spiritual memorial day of sorts.

I want to first take a look at several examples of monuments or memorials that God used in Scripture to remind His people of important truths or promises–to help them to remember those things because we are, in the natural, quite prone to forget. After we look at these examples I want to identify for you three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and for our children.

First, the biblical examples:

* Perhaps the most prominent example is the rainbow. See Genesis 9:8-17 and note the repetition of “sign” and “remember”
* Joshua led the Israelites across the Jordan River and God instructed him to take twelve stones and create a monument specifically so that future children would be prompted to ask about them, thus giving parents an opportunity to tell their children what God had done. See Joshua 4:1-3, 6-7, 21-24
* The Passover was designed to create a memorial for the Israelites to remember how God had spared His people and led them out of captivity. See Exodus 12:14
* Easter, as well as the fact that Christians worship on Sunday rather than Saturday, are memorials to the resurrection of Christ, which is the most important event in the Christian faith
* Communion, or The Lord’s Supper, is designed to cause partakers to remember the love of God, manifested in the gift of His Son who died in our place. See 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Now, those are five biblical examples of memorials or monuments whereby God provided direction for remembering important events and promises. It is quite fair to say, then, that the use of symbols and monuments is appropriate and that they are not dishonoring to God in any way. (Provided, of course, that they do not become idols). Take, for example, the cross. Here is what Max Lucado has written about the cross:

The cross. Can you turn any direction without seeing one? Perched atop a chapel. Carved into a graveyard headstone. Engraved in a ring or suspended on a chain. The cross is the universal symbol of Christianity. An odd choice, don’t you think? Strange that a tool of torture would come to embody a movement of hope. The symbols of other faiths are more upbeat: the six-pointed star of David, the crescent moon of Islam, a lotus blossom for Buddhism. Yet a cross for Christianity? An instrument of execution?
Would you wear a tiny electric chair around your neck? Suspend a gold-plated hangman’s noose on the wall? Would you print a picture of a firing squad on a business card? Yet we do so with the cross. Many even make the sign of the cross as they pray. Would we make the sign of, say, a guillotine? Instead of the triangular touch on the forehead and shoulders, how about a karate chop on the palm? Doesn’t quite have the same feel, does it?

Why is the cross the symbol of our faith? To find the answer look no farther than the cross itself. Its design couldn’t be simpler. One beam horizontal—the other vertical. One reaches out—like God’s love. The other reaches up—as does God’s holiness. One represents the width of his love; the other reflects the height of his holiness. The cross is the intersection. The cross is where God forgave his children without lowering his standards.

How could he do this? In a sentence: God put our sin on his Son and punished it there.

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The cross, then, is a monument, a memorial, a symbol that reminds us the God loves us—that He loved us enough to send His only begotten Son to pay the penalty of sin in our place that we could never pay. We do not, by the way, use a crucifix, because we know Jesus is alive. Yes, His death is significant and meaningful, but I He had died on that cross and stayed dead, we would be without hope.

So, I said I was going to share three areas where I think we should be creating memorials or reminders for ourselves and our children. The first is the one I just shared–the love of God, the gift of His Son, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. We cannot overemphasize that love or that atoning sacrifice. I am not suggesting that you must wear a cross necklace or hang crosses in your home or anything else, but I am suggesting that we have a responsibility to remind ourselves and—if we are parents, to remind our children—regularly of the love of God and the gift of His Son.
In an article published just before Valentine’s Day 2015, entitled “Remembering the Unquantifiable Love of God,” Christina Fox wrote,

But real love isn’t something you can measure. The love God has for us is beyond numbers and can’t be tallied. When God promised to bless Abraham with countless children, he used the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore as a metaphor. These are things people simply cannot count. Paul described the love of Christ as surpassing knowledge (Ephesians 3:19). And the psalmist wrote, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5).

God’s love for us goes farther than even time itself, into the deep recesses of eternity past. It stretched all the way from forever, forward to the cross, and will continue into eternity future. “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:4–5).
His love for us is a love that doesn’t hold back. His love gives everything, to the point of sacrificing his very own Son. At the cross, the perfect eternal love of the triune God was shown most vividly as the Son bore all our sins for us. This is unquantifiable, immeasurable love.

We have opportunities at church, opportunities with communion, opportunities when we forgive, when we explain justice and mercy-—we have opportunities around us all the time, every day, to recognize, remember and celebrate the love of God.

The second area where we need to conscious of creating reminders or memorials is in what God has done in our lives. Each of us has stories and instances of God working in our lives, through the circumstances we have experiences, the trials we have endured, the valleys we have passed through, to see God at work and to experience His grace, His comfort, His mercy, His strength, His patience, His faithfulness. We need to be intentional about remembering those instances—and willing to tell others about them.

In Luke 8 Jesus heals a man indwelt by many demons—so many that they call themselves Legion. He casts them out of the man and into a herd of pigs. In verse 38 of that chapter we read that man who had been freed of the demons begged Jesus that he might stay with Him. But Jesus sent him away, and in verse 39 it says that Jesus said to him, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And what happened next? The verse finishes, “And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him.”

Now, you probably do not have a testimony so fantastic as being freed of a legion of demons. Neither do I. And frankly, for a long time, I thought that my story, my testimony, any examples of what God had done for me, were pretty boring. But that’s simply not true. Any of us—all of us—can tell others of what Jesus has done for us. It may not be dramatic, it may not incredible, it may not be the stuff of a made-for-TV movie, but the simple reality is that if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior, you have a miraculous testimony. The almighty, sovereign God of the universe gave His Son to die in your place, and you are now forgiven, set free from sin, and destined to spend eternity in heaven with Him. That is miraculous!

Stephen Altrogge wrote an article entitled, “If you don’t have a dramatic testimony.” In it, he recounts feeling the same way I did—that his testimony is nothing exciting. He grew up in a loving family, was a pretty good and did not do anything terrible from which, or out of which God saved Him. That may make your life story less exciting from a human standpoint, but it is really all the more reason to be grateful and thankful to God. Altrogge writes:

Don’t be disappointed that you don’t have a gripping, over-the-top testimony. Don’t feel like you somehow missed out. Will you get to tell your story in front of large audiences? Probably not. But that’s a good thing. Be grateful that God spared you from the heart-breaking, soul-wrenching consequences of some sins. Be grateful that God saved you before you could wreck your life. Be grateful that you’re not carrying years of baggage around with you.

Those with incredible testimonies may have greater opportunities to tell their stories to larger audiences, but everyone one of us can tell others about what God has done for us. The story of our salvation itself may not be dramatic but every believer has a story of how God has worked in our lives, of how God has provided peace, provided direction, provided comfort…

Let me ask you a question—–could yousay that one or more of these describes you or where you have been at some point in your life: By the grace of God you still alive; delivered from committing suicide; delivered from addictions; no purpose in life—-felt hopeless, lost, no meaning; in the midst of incredible despair, turmoil or uncertainty and you had no idea what was happening or why, but God sustained you and brought you through; you thought you had everything figured out and God told you to do something else that made no sense from an earthly standpoint; you found strength and peace in the midst of incredible physical, mental or financial difficulty… If any of those are true of you then you have a story, you are a monument, a memorial to the faithfulness and goodness of God, and you can and should tell others what God has done in and through and for you.

The third and final area in which we need to create memorials and reminders is the way that God has worked in and through others. The Scripture is full of stories of how God has done marvelous things in the lives of those who follow Him. Look what He did with Job, with Moses, with Noah, with Daniel, with Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego, of Gideon, of Esther, of David, of Peter, or Paul, of so many others—those are encouraging to us because they are examples of how God works in and through fallen, fallible human beings in order to shape us to be who and what He wants us to be and to do what He wants us to do. We should study and know those stories because they are reminders to us.

At the same time, there are many other examples post-Bible times, of how God has worked in incredible ways through very ordinary people. Some of the great individuals of Christian history–Wycliffe, Tyndale, Luther, George Muller, William Carey, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, Hudson Taylor, Charles Spurgeon, Amy Carmichael, D.L. Moody, Corrie Ten Boom, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jim Elliot, Joni Eareckson Tada, Chuck Colson, and so many more. In the day and age in which we live, there are people being persecuted for Christ every day-—and we can pray for them, we can know their stories, we can find encouragement and strength and courage and hope in their willingness to stand firm in their faith even when doing so costs them their life. In Hebrews 11 we see a long list of individuals who accomplished great things for God because they obeyed “in faith.” Paul often referenced other believers in his writings. It is not the purpose of Paul or the writer of Hebrews to hold those people themselves out as examples, but rather to serve as reminders–as monuments or memorials–of what God can do in and through ordinary, fallen individuals who get out of their own way and obey God, following His direction and leading in their lives.

For the child of God, every day can be–every day should be–memorial day.

August 29, 2014

Live It Out

Ravi Zacharias is, in my opinion, one of the wisest and most articulate Christian apologists on the planet. Rarely do I listen to him speak or read something that he wrote without being struck by something I want to be sure to remember and to try to apply in my own life.

Today, as I was flipping through some index cards on which I have written quotes that I find meaningful and worth reflecting on from time to time I was struck by the relationship between two consecutive cards in the stack. Maybe they have always been next to each other and it never struck me, or maybe they just ended up that way today, because some of the cards had come out of the clip in which I keep them and got rearranged. But I think that these two thoughts complement each other so well, and are such poignant reminders for all of us (and those of us who work with children specifically) that I want to share them with you.

The first is a quote from Ravi Zacharias. He says, “I have little doubt that the single greatest obstacle to the impact of the gospel has not been its inability to provide answers, but the failure on our part to live it out.” The implications of that one sentence could fill pages–could actually probably fill books. The Bible talks clearly in so many passages about the importance of living out our faith. Professed belief is questionable if it does not impact the way in which the one making the profession lives his or her life. James, of course, says that believing in God is all well and good but is, for all intents and purposes, worthless in and of itself because even the demons believe. There must also be action, an out-flowing of the change that takes place inside.

I have heard on several occasions–and I am sure you have too–a political candidate say, “My faith will not interfere with my job,” or something along those lines. While I can perhaps appreciate the point the candidate is trying to make, particularly vis-a-vis the “keep religion out of the public sphere” atmosphere that dominates America today, I always find myself thinking in response, “Then it must not be much of a faith.” If someone can profess a religious faith and also profess that he or she can execute the duties of a political office without that faith having an influence on him or her then that faith is either completely meaningless or completely compartmentalized. (Actually, that’s redundant, isn’t it? A completely compartmentalized faith would be completely meaningless…) There are few positions that involve the influence and the potential impact of a political office; if one’s faith is not influential there, where would it be influential?

To the point that Zacharias is making, many people are completely turned off by those who profess the gospel message and therefore never even give the message itself a chance. When one who professes something lives in a manner completely inconsistent with that which is being confessed such a rejection is hardly surprising. This amounts to little more than “do as I say, not as I do,” and I think we all know how effective that is(n’t).

The index card right behind the one with the quote from Ravi Zacharias was one with this quote from Alison Thomas: “The most persuasive apologetic we can offer our children is not a series of carefully constructed verbal arguments, but a life beautifully lived close beside them.”

These two quotes are so complementary because they have the same idea at their roots. Zacharias’ point is that the gospel has the answers, but when those of us who claim it turn seekers off by the way we live our lives they will never give the gospel a chance. Thomas’ point is that coming up with the grandest instructions, arguments and rules in the world will matter little, if at all, if others–and in this case, children specifically–do not see the gospel demonstrated every day in our lives.

Neither Zacharias nor Thomas is suggesting we must be perfect–because none of us can. We will all stumble, make mistakes and “blow it” from time to time. That’s because we’re human. The frequency with which we do that should diminish over time as we grow in our relationship with the Lord but it will still happen. The question is, what do we do when that happens? Do we acknowledge it and repent? Do we apologize to those we may have hurt in the process? Or do we try to cover it up or excuse it away?

The inverse of Zacharias’ point is equally true, and is the point at which Thomas is getting. If we live a beautiful life alongside our children, one in which they see us growing, learning, struggling, messing up and handling it well, they will learn from us. They will ask questions. They will model what they have seen. The probability is high that they will embrace the faith themselves. Our words can be powerful teachers and testimonies, but only if the reinforce and echo what our actions are already teaching.

I suspect that if I were God I would not have chosen to entrust my message of love, redemption and forgiveness to the human race. Even if I had loved humans enough to offer them that, I would probably have done it in a manner that eliminated the possibility that humans could, through their own bone-headedness, become an obstacle to other humans wanting to receive or even hear my message. God, in His sovereignty, chose to give us mortals that responsibility…and what a responsibility it is! If we are going to profess a faith in Him, we better be sure to live it out.

February 13, 2014

Beware Appearances (Part 2)

Yesterday I looked at the danger of focusing on image enhancement at the church level, a concern raised by John MacArthur in a February Tabletalk article and by Sophia Lee in a December WORLD article. Today I want to address the danger of focusing on image at the personal level.

MacArthur writes, “Worst of all, this attitude is pervasive at the individual level. Far too many Christians live as if a pretense of righteousness were as good as the real thing.”

He goes on to point out that this was the major error of the Pharisees. So true is this, in fact, that the very words “Pharisee” or “pharisaical” are now used to describe someone who is far more concerned with the external than the internal. Dictionary.com defines “pharisaical” this way: “practicing or advocating strict observance of external forms and ceremonies of religion or conduct without regard to the spirit; self-righteous; hypocritical.” Hypocrite is probably one of the most common synonyms for Pharisee in any contemporary vernacular. Not exactly anything to aspire to!

The Pharisees’ problem was that they had mastered the art of making, interpreting, creatively bending and then living by the rules. So hung up on rules were they that they greatly added to the Ten Commandments God gave Moses and generated lists of hundreds of rules. So hung up on rules were they that they condemned Jesus for healing someone on the Sabbath, condemned His disciples for grinding grain on the Sabbath when they plucked a few heads of grain with their hands while walking through a field. So hung up on rules were the Pharisees that they completely missed–indeed even denied–that Jesus was the Messiah because He did not fit their idea of what/who the Messiah should/would be.

MacArthur writes, “The Pharisees’ teaching placed so much emphasis on external appearances that it was commonly believed that evil thoughts were not really sinful as long as they did not become acts. The Pharisees and their followers became utterly preoccupied with appearing righteous.” Jesus, of course, turned that manner of thinking on its head, making clear that hating someone or lusting after someone is no different than murder or adultery. In other words, thoughts matter just as much as actions! No wonder the Pharisees hated Jesus; He challenged their entire religious system and made clear that all their rule-keeping was for naught.

Few, if any, of us have the same fastidious attention to countless rules that the Pharisees did. That does not mean at all, though, that we are not just as hung up on external appearances. How comfortable we can get carrying our Bibles to church every Sunday and bowing our heads before every meal, deluding ourselves into thinking that surely means we’re doing pretty good. God doesn’t look at that stuff, though; He is far more concerned with our hearts. He made it clear way back when Samuel was anointing a king for Israel that man looks at appearances but God looks at the heart.

What we do matters; do not take anything I am saying here to mean otherwise. James, of course, makes it crystal clear that our faith must be demonstrated by our works. But faith must precede works. The Pharisees saw no need for faith; works was their means to salvation. So we should carry our Bibles and go to church on Sunday, we should tithe and give offerings, we should show love and mercy in our interactions with others, but all of those things must flow out of a heart transformed by the realization that none of that will get us to heaven or earn us anything. We must also grasp that none of those things negate any “secret” sins of the heart and mind. No one else may see or no about them but God does, and He cares about them. They matter to Him.

In MacArthur’s words, the central lesson underscored by Jesus was this: “External appearance is not what matters most.” Let us not forget that.

July 11, 2012

God’s All Stars

I am a big baseball fan, meaning that yesterday was an exciting day for me, since it was Major League Baseball’s annual All Star Game. To the best of my recollection I have not missed an All Star Game since I started paying attention to baseball in 1986. Last night, like there is just about every year, there were stories that made the game special. For instance, the youngest position player ever to play in an MLB All Star Game played last night–the Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper, who is just 19 years old. The Atlanta Braves’ Chipper Jones, who is 40, played in his last All Star Game, since he will be retiring at the end of this season. The New York Mets’ R.A. Dickey played in his first All Star Game at age 37.

It seems that every year the All Star Game features some perennial All Stars–players who always appear in the mid-summer classic, both because of their outstanding skill and the fans’ appreciation of their efforts. My all-time favorite baseball player, Cal Ripken, Jr., for example, played in nineteen straight All Star games. Yet, each year’s game also includes players who appear in their first All Star Game–and for some of them their first and only.

As I was thinking about this I was reminded of Hebrews 11, the passage that many have called the Hall of Faith. In that chapter the writer of Hebrews describes several Bible characters who obeyed God in faith. Those mentioned in this chapter (with the possible exceptions of Barak and Jephthah) would probably fall into the category of God’s perennial All Stars–the men whose stories are well known, often referenced, and stand among the great stories of obedient faith.

What these men did certainly qualifies for a “Hall of Faith,” too, in my opinion. Abraham, for example, “was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8, ESV). There have been plenty of times in my own life when it was difficult to follow God even when I knew where I was going; to pack up everything and strike out trusting the God would lead the way is certainly an example of great faith! Or Noah, who verse 7 says obeyed God regarding events “as yet unseen.” Noah was supposed to build an ark, though he lived nowhere near a body of water, because God said he would destroy the world with a great flood, which no one had ever seen or imagined. Noah not only did this, but he worked at consistently and faithfully for one hundred years! It seems sometimes I cannot spare 100 minutes for God, much less stick with something He has asked me to do for 100 days. One hundred years of faithful obedience because of events unseen or unheard of is tremendous faith!

At the same time, the Bible is full of many other heroes of the faith. Some of them receive only one short mention in Scripture and are not heard of again. Some played small roles in history, but demonstrated tremendous faith in the one moment for which their story has been recorded.

One of the fun things about the MLB All Star Game is voting. Fans all over the world can vote for their favorites, for the players that they want to see or believe are deserving to be on the teams. Who would be on your list of God’s All Stars?

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