Hey! Are You Lost?

On a cold December day, ten years ago, Keith and Jennifer Lee of Medford, Oregon were driving home on an isolated mountain road, with a freshly cut “Silver Tipped” Christmas tree tied to the top of their Subaru SUV. The Lees were returning from their annual Christmas tree hunt with a rare trophy highly prized by Christmas Tree lovers. Their four children were eagerly waiting for them at home, but became concerned when a one day outing turned into two days and two days into three. It seems the Lees were rounding a curve on the rugged mountain road and somehow found themselves stuck in ditch filled with two feet of snow. Their all-wheel-drive vehicle simply could not get them out! 

This was not the first time the couple had gotten themselves into trouble on such a winter quest. Just a year before that, they had gotten lost on another snowy mountain road while hunting down the perfect Christmas Tree and couldn’t find their way out of the thick mountain forest, and they had no emergency supplies with them. Fortunately search parties found them early on, and they made it home with a fine Christmas tree. But thinking that they had learned their lesson the following year and in an effort to outsmart the mountains, they took along a cell phone with a GPS, some blankets and 24 bottles of water, but they didn’t plan to get stuck in a ditch or to be out of the range of a cell phone tower.

On the third day out in the harsh cold boonies, Keith managed to figure out a way to free his vehicle and the Lees were finally heading home. Once in range of a cell tower, they called 911 and learned that an aggressive round the clock effort by the Oregon state police had been initiated to locate them. Everyone was quite relieved because there was real concern for their survival, if indeed they were lost.

The Bible tells us that all of us are born into a world of sin and darkness. In short we come into the world, spiritually lost. We are lost in sin and in danger of certain judgment, but the good news is summed up in the words of Jesus, who said,

For the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Luke 19:10 NKJV

God the Father loved us so much that He sent His own Son to find us and rescue us from the curse sin brought upon human race.  God’s desire is to save us and to bring us safely and surely to His home, where we might live with Him for all eternity.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

 John 3:16-17 NIV

Our Christmas Hope

As a youngster, and to be honest even as I had gotten a little older, I would begin thinking about Christmas Day just as soon as summer ended. I knew that sometime in August of each year, the Sears Christmas Catalog [the “toy catalog”] would be arriving in the mail, and I could pore over its pages. My brother and sister used to fight with me for the privilege of taking the Sears Christmas catalog to bed. We knew that in early September, Mom would ask us to pick three toys that we might like to receive as a Christmas gift. She couldn’t guarantee which one of the three toys we would get, but we could be fairly confident that we would find one of them under the tree on Christmas morning. Only now do I appreciate the long extra hours Mom had to work during the fall to pay for those special gifts. “No, Susan, there ain’t no Santa Claus!”

In retrospect, the old Sears Christmas Catalog was almost more exciting than any of the gifts, because it promised something very special, something good that we associated with Christmas. It represented the expectations, the longings and desires, all the things the Eastman children most looked forward to… There is a word that describes this kind of anticipation. It is the word “hope.”

I think the meaning of the word hope has all but been forgotten today. The world is no longer safe and secure [not anywhere], and the financial markets may be good right now, but the meltdown of ten years ago is not forgotten. Who knows what will happen in Congress over the next few weeks, or what impact will this have next year’s election? The moral values which have guided our nation and western nations for centuries are being trampled underfoot. Godlessness is considered a greater virtue than godliness, today. We are heartsick hearing about the young teenager, who takes his or her own life, because there is nothing to live for.  Worse yet, the church is saying very little about hope,  and of all places that is the one place where one should find hope! 

If I were to ask you, what is it you hope for, and why do you hope for it, what would you say? Or perhaps you would honestly say, I don’t know what I should be hoping for, and if I did would I be able to hope for it.  I would like to talk to you this morning from the nativity narrative in Luke’s Gospel about the nature of hope. It is one of the key lessons of Advent. Next week, we’ll talk about Advent and the lesson of faith. Paul the apostle said,

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.”  1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV.

So, from the Advent narratives let’s learn something about the nature of hope this morning.

The biblical idea of hope is powerfully illustrated for us in Luke’s portrait of an old man named Simeon.  The account begins some 40 days after Mary gave  birth to Jesus. Jewish law regarded mothers of newborn boys as unclean for seven days because of the bleeding associated with giving birth. The law also required a waiting period of 33 days after that to be sure there was no further bleeding. If there is no bleeding during that period of time, the mother was required to bring her son to the Tabernacle or Temple and offer a pair of doves or pigeons as a sacrifice to the Lord. There she would dedicate her child to God. This where our story begins. Joseph and Mary are bringing Jesus to the Temple to present Him to the Lord. There they encounter an old man whose name is Simeon. And this is what Luke tells us:

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God,…                    Luke 2:25-28 NIV.

There is little said of Simeon in the Bible. All of what we know, and all we really must know is summed up by Luke in verses 25-35 of chapter 2. Though we typically picture him as old, Luke never says that. There is some reason to believe however, that he might have been the same Simeon mentioned by ancient rabbis, the son of a famous rabbi named Hillel and the father of the apostle Paul’s mentor, the rabbi called Gamaliel. If so, that is significant because tradition tells us that Simeon was considered something of a misfit by his more Zionistic peers, who dismissed him for his quiet piety and lack of political zeal. He did not believe that a military solution was the key to Israel’s future, but rather a spiritual one, and he wasn’t hoping for a Messiah with a sword, but for a Messiah who would bring peace to His people and salvation to the nations. But all we really need to know about Simeon is summed up by Luke, and Luke reveals in this man the nature of true hope! One phrase seems to capture the hope of Simeon. It is found in verse 25 where we read,

“He was waiting for the consolation [comfort] of Israel.” Luke 2:25b

The comfort of Israel refers to the coming of the Messiah as prophesied in Isaiah 40:1-5.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling ‘In the desert prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.’” Isaiah 40:1-5.

Simeon embraced the message of Isaiah and looked for the Messiah who would fulfill all the great prophecies of the Old Testament. Like a child with a Sears Christmas Catalog, he pored over the Scripture, savoring every good thing God had promised His people in the Christ to come. The word translated “waiting” [prosdechomenos from prosdechomai] meant that Simeon was living with expectancy, he was actively looking forward to the comfort of God’s people, he waited but it was watchful waiting…like Christmas is coming, only it was the real Christmas with the real Christ!

What the OT saints did not see, was that the coming of Messiah would be two events [just as we sometimes see two mountain peaks one behind the other, but they appear from a distance to be one, only they are two],  The first advent would bring Christ into the world as the suffering servant to die for the sins of His people, and the second advent yet to come would bring Christ into the world to judge the nations, and establish His rule over the world from the throne of David in Jerusalem. This is something understood in the NT, clearly taught in the Gospels and the epistles. But somehow it seems Simeon did understand enough to know that it was the same Messiah who would both atone for the sins of the people, and rule the nations in peace. And, Simeon was actively looking, waiting on the edge of his seat, yes, hoping to see the one who would fulfill the prophecies in his own lifetime with his very own eyes. Whether Simeon was the son of Hillel, a middle-aged man, or whether he lived to be 200 years of age, as the Eastern Orthodox Church teaches, Simeon thrived on this hope and the expectation of seeing the Christ in his lifetime.

You and I know that Christ came two millennia ago, died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead and ascended bodily into heaven. Two thousand years have passed, and we know for a fact that we live two thousand years closer to His Second Coming than did the apostles. We are living in the latter days though we do not know for sure exactly when Christ will come again. But our hope is that He will come soon. It is near. It is at the door. In the next 50 years? Perhaps. In the next 25 years? Perhaps. In the next ten years? Perhaps. In the next five years? Perhaps. In the next year? Perhaps. Next month? Perhaps. This week? Perhaps. Today? Perhaps. But He will certainly come just as certainly as He ascended into heaven before several eyewitnesses 40 days after His resurrection! And when He comes…the crooked will be made straight! Yes, that is our Christmas Hope!


Grateful Service

Every Friday morning during the school year back in the 1950s was an all school assembly day at the Jackson Avenue Elementary School. Each assembly opened with the reading of a Psalm, a non-sectarian prayer and hymn. It was during one assembly program that I was first exposed to the 100th Psalm. Over the years it has become one of my favorite Psalms. I like how it translated in the English Standard Version. It is entitled as in the Hebrew Bible,

A Psalm for giving thanks.

100 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth!
    Serve the Lord with gladness!
    Come into his presence with singing!

Know that the Lord, he is God!
    It is he who made us, and we are his;[a]
    we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
    and his courts with praise!
    Give thanks to him; bless his name!

For the Lord is good;
    his steadfast love endures forever,
    and his faithfulness to all generations.

The One Hundreth Psalm is the one and only Psalm out of 150 Psalms to be called a Thanksgiving Psalm. Notice how it’s titled, “A Psalm for Giving Thanks.” This is how it begins in the Hebrew Bible.

And just how are we to give thanks? The Psalmist declares, Serve the LORD with gladness!(v.2)” Sure, some translations read it Worship the LORD with gladness” but the Hebrew verb ( עָבַד ) ordinarily means “to serve,” “to do work,” or “to labor.” What the Psalmist wanted us to understand is that giving thanks to God is not only expressed by our voices in joyful praise, but by our labor or service dedicated to God alone. Thankful people understand that all our labor, all our service while it may be offered to others, is ultimately for God and God alone.

Too often, we think of serving the Lord in terms of Sunday services, or things we do at church.  Not so!  Serving the Lord has to do with what we do every day of the week, even when we feel stressed and divided in our loyalties. We need to step back and ask ourselves this question, “For whom am I really working?”  “For whom am I serving?”

Without sanctioning slavery as some misguided souls have argued, the apostle Paul writes to those saints who struggled to know how to honor God in their ordinary work and service done under the scrutiny of those who often didn’t value them, those who took them for granted.

He writes,

17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:17, 23-24 ESV

Paul’s counsel sounds almost counter-intuitive, but it was very much in keeping with what our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son did for us. For our sakes He  took on the form of a bondservant, made in the likeness of human beings, humbled himself and became obedient to death, the death on a cross. He was the same One who said He did not come to be served but to serve and give Himself a ransom for many.

James Mars was a slave sold in his youth to a frail but cruel man named Munger, in Norfolk, Connecticut in the early nineteenth century. He endured mistreatment and lashings from Mr. Munger, as a young man. In spite of his sharp inquisitive mind and hunger for good literature, James was denied formal schooling. Fortunately however, he was legally emancipated in his early 20s, and subsequently as a free citizen he exercised his voting rights, voting in two important elections for the late President Abraham Lincoln.

Later in life, James Mars returned to Norfolk, Connecticut to care for a dying man, the same man who sorely treated him in his youth, the elderly Mr. Munger. And as it turned out, he also cared for Mr. Munger’s daughter who predeceased him in death. How did he care for them? Why did he care for them, serving those who once had harmed him? I think something he said later nearer the end of his life says it all.

I was under the watchful care of a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. He has thus far provided for me, and I feel assured that He will if I trust Him, with all my heart and soul and strength, and serve Him faithfully, which is my duty, the few years or days that are allotted to me, and it is my prayer that I may have grace to keep me, that I may not dishonor the cause of Christ, but that I may do that which will be acceptable in the sight of my Heavenly Father, so that I may do good to my fellow-men. [James Mars, Life of James Mars, a Slave Born and Sold in Connecticut, pp. 37-38]

The question we must ask in all of our labor and work is, “Who am I serving?”  Too often we secretly grumble and complain under duress at home doing menial tasks, or at the office picking up the slack for lazy co-workers.  We all need a change of perspective! What elevated the service of James Mars ought to elevate us in much easier circumstances. I like what a wise pastor and author, Oliver Price once said,

“For the dedicated believer, all of life is elevated to the level of divine service.  (Yes, even) at the kitchen sink… Wash dishes as a service only to God.”  And, that applies to men and children, as well!  Amen?

Where Is Your Sacred Space?

Where, oh where, is that quiet space to engage God? Susanna Wesley was the mother of nineteen children, two of whom were John and Charles. Nine of the children died as infants, but you can only guess what life might have been like in that home.

Where would a busy mother find space for God? It has been said that she found a few moments each day by sitting down and throwing her apron over her head. What, not even a closet in which to hide? No, just an apron. But consider the impact her life had on her children, especially John and Charles.

One might conclude that the rise of Methodism, one of the most important manifestations of the First Great Awakening began not in the open air where Whitefield preached, nor in the venues crowded by thousands to hear John and Charles Wesley, but in a mother’s apron, where she made space to prevail with God in prayer.

“Dollie,” our little mixed dachshund, is yipping at my feet, even as I write this post. She loves her “Mommy and Daddy,” but her needs press urgently upon me, like the demands of family and ministry. But the question is, do we love God enough to make space in our lives for Him?

Thank God I don’t have to resort to an apron! But for the soul that has no other option and resorts to a piece of cloth, my God will quench your thirsty soul!

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.” John 7:37b NIV

A Visit with an Old Faithful Guide

One of the best things I did soon after moving into the Tampa Bay area five years ago, was to reconnect with an old friend, a pastor who figured prominently in my childhood, influenced my conversion to Christ at seven years of age, and baptized me two years later. His name was Albert R. Siebert and he was 94 years old at the time, and much more slight and shorter than I had remembered him.  It had been more than 50 years since we had last met, but to my surprise, he remembered me!

I drove down to visit him one afternoon. And after reminiscing with him over lunch, Al, as he preferred to be called, invited me to his high-rise apartment overlooking Tampa Bay, and we began sharing God’s working in our lives. Just before leaving, he pulled an old thin book from the top of the stand next to his easy chair. He said, “You know what this is?” Bending closer, the faded brown cover read, The Practice of the Presence of God, its author, Brother Lawrence. He told me that he was still teaching a Bible class for seniors on Thursdays, and then he said, “I’m going to be sharing selections from this with my group at Northside.”

Al then shared with me how he rediscovered Brother Lawrence and how his little book had encouraged his walk in Christ. He had struggled with loneliness since the death of his wife Sue, just four years earlier. But in the midst of his loneliness, he spoke of experiencing the consolation of God’s presence. And then he read the following passage from Brother Lawrence’s last letter, entitled “From his death-bed.”

GOD knoweth best what is needful for us, and all that He does is for our good. If we knew how much He loves us, we should be always ready to receive equally and with indifference from His hand the sweet and the bitter; all would please that came from Him. The sorest afflictions never appear intolerable, but when we see them in the wrong light. When we see them in the hand of GOD, who dispenses them: when we know that it is our loving FATHER, who abases and distresses us: our sufferings will lose their bitterness, and become even matter of consolation.

Let all our employment be to know GOD: the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love: and if our love of GOD were great we should love Him equally in pains and pleasures.

Let us not amuse ourselves to seek or to love GOD for any sensible favours (how elevated soever) which He has or may do us. Such favours, though never so great, cannot bring us so near to GOD as faith does in one simple act. Let us seek Him often by faith: He is within us; seek Him not elsewhere. Are we not rude and deserve blame, if we leave Him alone, to busy ourselves about trifles, which do not please Him and perhaps offend Him? ‘Tis to be feared these trifles will one day cost us dear.

Let us begin to be devoted to Him in good earnest. Let us cast everything besides out of our hearts; He would possess them alone. Beg this favour of Him. If we do what we can on our parts, we shall soon see that change wrought in us which we aspire after. I cannot thank Him sufficiently for the relaxation He has vouchsafed you. I hope from His mercy the favour to see Him within a few days. Let us pray for one another.

[He took to his bed two days after and died within the week.]

Tears welled up as Al read these words, and I looked deep into the heart of a man who loved Christ more than life itself. Two years later, I discovered him a little more frail on the outside, but still a well of fresh life giving water on the inside. I wanted to call on him again on the occasion of what would have been his 97th birthday, but learned God had called on Him first, and taken him home a little sooner. Disappointed to have missed him, I was happy for him.

Oh, that I would love Christ like Al!

You Don’t Mean to Say, YOU Believe in Divine Healing?

From time to time, people ask me if I believe in Divine Healing. What they aren’t asking me, is if I believe in random acts of miraculous healing. But, do I believe there is some provision in the death of Jesus Christ for the healing of the body, a provision for us as believers to claim.

I have known many who have experienced miraculous healing, including myself! But one healing stands out. A little over 25 years ago, Charlotte a wonderful saint of God, then in her mid-seventies, underwent a heart catheterization procedure that went bad. She required major surgical intervention which left her comatose and almost vegetative. After many days in the hospital, she was sent to a skilled nursing facility with a “vent” unit. In other words, she could not breathe and survive on her own. There was virtually no hope, humanly speaking for her recovery. We were prepared for her to die. This was in November of that year, just before Thanksgiving.

During a special prayer meeting that November many prayed for her “home-going,” and I sincerely was inclined to pray for that myself. But then God impressed on my heart a very different way to pray. I was to pray that she not only would be healed, but that she would sing at the Punta Gorda Alliance Church on Resurrection [Easter] Sunday morning. For reasons beyond me and defying every outward evidence to the contrary, I was suddenly absolutely certain that God would raise her up from near death. I stuck my proverbial neck out and publically prayed with the assurance that she would not only be healed but sing!

This is NOT the kind of thing that has often characterized my prayers for the sick. I do not claim any special spiritual gift of healing or extraordinary faith. Perhaps in this instance it might have been something on the order of “the prayer of faith” James speaks of, I do not know. It was special endowment of faith and very much out of the ordinary. For several days afterwards there was no change in Charlotte’s condition, and no change over the next few weeks that followed.

Our pastor visited Charlotte regularly and reported back on her condition. Then one day, he reported a change. She began to show signs of alertness. Her healing accelerated, she was taken off the ventilator, and then she was discharged home, but with barely an audible voice. Gradually, her voice began to return and yes, on Resurrection Sunday morning, for the first time since her surgical mishap, Charlotte sang as part of the “Mifflin Trio” with her sisters, Jessie and Dorothy, to the glory of God.

In the years that have followed, I have come to appreciate the provision of Christ our Healer for the body and the soul. Occasionally, I have witnessed God’s miraculous healing in answer to prayer, at times after praying for the sick and anointing them with oil. I have come to believe that such healing experienced today by God’s people is rooted in the atonement of Christ.

The prophet Isaiah anticipated the Messiah’s death not only as a substitutionary atonement for sin, but also as God’s provision for the healing of the physical body (Isaiah 53:4-5; cf. 1 Peter 2:24). If there was any doubt that this was the intent of the prophet, the apostle Matthew confirms that this was Isaiah’s meaning, and the very basis for the healing ministry of our Lord (Matthew 8:16-17). Efforts to deny the plain meaning of Isaiah’s words strike me as unconvincing and contrived. Sin came into the world and death by sin (Romans 5:12). That death includes the whole being, body and soul. The cross was God’s answer to sin, providing redemption from sin and its wages, which affects the whole man, soul and body. Complete healing like our sanctification will not be fully realized in the believer’s experience until the appearing of Christ (1 John 3:2). However, in the interim we may appropriate by faith the benefits, even if imperfectly.

God wants us to entrust our physical well-being to Him, and it is ordinarily His will for the church to pray for wellness (3 John 1:2) and healing (James 5:16). He has in point of fact endowed some in the church with gifts of healing (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28) for the common good and unity of the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:7, 18-19) and for the encouragement and strengthening of others in the Body of Christ (Ephesians 4:16). It is my understanding that the gifts of healing are likely special endowments of faith given to some in the Body of Christ for the effectual kind of prayer that trusts God to heal the sick (Romans 12:3ff correlating with 1 Corinthians 12:9, 28).

Even so, God is sovereign and He may choose to deny a request for immediate healing to allow for something better (John 11:4; 2 Corinthians 12:7-10), and ultimately to call us home to Heaven (Psalm 90:10; 103:15-17a). But it is generally His will for us to seek His face for healing (Matthew 7:7-11; James 5:16). Therefore, it behooves the church to pray continually for healing (James 5:16) and to encourage those who are afflicted to seek God’s face for it.

Should the church then discourage the sick from seeking medical attention? We do well to remember that all true healing comes from God (James 1:17), that by Him we are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:13-14), and that He is the creator of the immunological system in our bodies that fights disease. Medication for illness may clearly be in the will of God, as it was for Timothy, associate of the apostle Paul (1 Timothy 5:23). The apostle Paul himself, undoubtedly benefitted from the skills of Luke, God’s provision of a physician who travelled with him (Colossians 4:4; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Indeed, we can also say that God is the true source of wisdom and skill, which He has given to modern physicians.

We also do well to remember that God is sovereign, and that He has the right to determine how He will heal. Often it seems God uses more than one means of healing, and believers should avail themselves of all that God has provided for it. But, as we learn from old King Asa, who neglected to consult with God, but only his physicians for the life threatening disease in his feet (2 Chronicles 16:12), God wants His people to go to Him first, and trust Him primarily and ultimately for our physical well-being.

Like a Vapor in the Wind

“For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”

James 4:14b NKJV

Wednesday’s headline read, “Stabbing Spree in Southern California Leaves 4 Dead and 2 Hurt.” This according to TIME Magazine online, in addition to and less than a week after the carnage in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, which had already taken 31 lives. These horrific occurrences remind us of something we don’t like to think about, namely the brevity and fragility of life. In a day when investment firms are convincing us to sock away funds in our working years sufficient to support us into our late 70s, 80s, and even 90s, these savage events serve to jar us into a reality embraced by our forbears.

In 18th century New England, people rarely lived through their forties. So, it was deemed essential that young people be reminded of the brevity of life and the importance of living the years God gave them for His honor and glory. The Puritans used to configure the benches in their meetinghouses so that they faced the windows across the length of the buildings, which looked out on their cemeteries. We live in denial of death, even today, but for tragic events like those of this past week. We don’t want to think about our mortality. Isn’t it time we got a grip, and faced reality. Even a lifespan of 60, 70, 80, or 90 years is but a vapor. The wicked in the world escape nothing, nor the righteous. Death is 100% certain for everyone. The only treasure that really lasts and earns interest in life is what we invest for God’s kingdom. Where is your focus? Where is mine?

I am minded of words by C.T. Studd, the great missionary pioneer and statesman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“Only one life, yes only one,
Soon will its fleeting hours be done;
Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet,
And stand before His Judgement seat;
Only one life,’twill soon be past,
Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

C.T. Studd

What an Unusual Name for a Child

His name was Maranatha. He was a little towheaded boy in my cabin at New England Keswick Bible Conference and Camp during the summer of 1970, and I was his camp counselor. He was a funny little guy. I’ll never forget the night he fell out of his bunk bed onto the hardwood floor landing with such a thud that it sounded as if a bowling ball had been dropped through the roof. No bones were broken, and he didn’t even have a bump on his head, but it really gave us all a scare. Needless to say, we made him sleep in a lower bunk from then on. But I remember thinking, “Maranatha” what an unusual name for a boy.

Maranatha is an Aramaic expression which occurs but once in the Bible, specifically in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 16:22] meaning, “Our Lord, come!” In the early church, when Christians were persecuted for the faith and didn’t know who could be trusted, marantha was used commonly by believers as a watchword [a password]. It expressed what early believers of the first century longed for, the personal and visible return of the risen Christ to rule and reign over the earth as both Lord and King.

Old and New Testaments alike speak of the coming of one called “the Son of Man,” “the Son of David,” “the Messiah” or the “Anointed One,” that is to say “the Christ” to reign over the world. The New Testament records a first coming as a matter of history, and anticipates a second coming yet future. What the Old Testament saints didn’t comprehend nor even the prophets who wrote of it, was that the Messiah they anticipated would need to come twice in order to fulfill two very different and distinct lines of prophecy spoken of him. It was as if there were two missions to be fulfilled. The missions were related, and the latter would be based on the former, but two separate and distinct advents were essential nevertheless.

One line of prophecy spoken of by Isaiah, Daniel and Zechariah, concerned a suffering servant or Messiah whom Israel would reject, a Messiah who would be afflicted for the sins of the nation, a Messiah who would be cut off. Isaiah spoke of him in these words:

“Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment which brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away and who can speak of his descendants, for he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was stricken.” Isaiah 53:4-8 NIV84

But then the prophets also spoke of a very different coming, in which the Son of Man would come in glory to judge the nations and establish His kingdom over the earth.

“I was watching [Daniel writes] in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, And His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed.” Daniel 7:13-14 NKJV

Is this Messiah who comes once to suffer and the Messiah who comes a second time to reign as king really one and the same Messiah? Listen to the words of the prophet Zechariah.

“In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; the one who is feeble among them in that day shall be like David, and the house of David shall be like God, like the Angel of the LORD before them. It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.” Zechariah 12:8-10 NKJV

The New Testament identifies Jesus of Nazareth, as that Christ, the Messiah, who alone fulfills both the mission of the suffering servant, and will come again a second time, to fulfill the prophecies of a reigning Messiah, who will judge the nations and rule in righteousness and peace over an everlasting kingdom. Jesus himself understood that.

You will recall the words of Jesus on the night he was betrayed and forced to endure the mockery of a trial before the Sanhedrin.
“Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God,”  he was asked.

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you. In the future you will see the Son of Man [simply another designation for the Messiah] sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:63b-64 NIV

At that, he was charged and dispatched ultimately to Pilate, who ordered him crucified. But then on the third day following his death, Jesus rose bodily from the dead, later to ascend in a cloud into heaven, where he is presently seated at the right hand of the Father. But we are reminded that he will return just as he left, first for the church (1 Thessalonians 4:161-18), and then to judge the nations (Matthew 25:31-48). Maranatha!

“For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:27
“’Surely I am coming quickly’ Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! ” Revelation 22:20b NKJV

Geometry and the Calling of God

It is no small accomplishment to have graduated at the very top of the bottom third of my high school class (1966). With all of 16 credits I did not merit a New York State Regent’s diploma. The truth is, I wouldn’t have graduated at all but for a largely unappreciated “over the hill” math teacher, Roland Reade. Somehow, the “light turned on” in the middle of my junior year and with God’s help and Mr. Reade, I became a learner.

Mr. Reade taught me not so much about plane geometry as he did about motivating students to reach their highest potential. He was more concerned about his students as persons than he was about their ability to perform academically. He cared about the low achiever as much as he did the high achiever. For a student who had not been considered “college material” that was all I needed to become a learner.
Then in the Spring of the same year, I began the discipline of reading one chapter of Proverbs each day. And, on the fourth of April, these words leapt off the page:

“Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.” Proverbs 4:13 KJV

Suddenly, I knew my mission in life was to be both a learner and a teacher of the Scriptures. The convergence of events that junior year with what I sensed was God’s calling, transformed my life. And it was reinforced most unexpectedly on the day I graduated from Philadelphia College of Bible, now Cairn University.

On Saturday May 8th, 1971, dressed in cap and gown, I walked over to the Sheraton Hotel in Center City Philadelphia. As I was about to step on the elevator which would take me up to the Ballroom for college commencement ceremonies, who do you suppose was stepping off that very elevator? Mr. and Mrs. Roland Reade! It gives me chills to this day!
We greeted one another and it took him a minute to remember who I was. I hadn’t seen him for six years.

But, to this day, I don’t know for whom God meant this timely encounter. Was it for me, or was it for him? Methinks, it was surely an affirmation of the investment he made in the lives of students like me, one which was very much under-appreciated in Mineola. But it also spoke to me of God’s ways with those who trust in Him. To fulfill His calling for my life, God knew I needed a Roland Reade and at just the right time. Soli Deo Gloria!

The Prayer for Divine Guidance

I’ve heard a good many sermons by well-intentioned preachers and theologians on why praying for divine guidance demonstrates a lack of faith or even that it smacks of pagan divination. Of course, I think that asking God for signs at first resort is generally symptomatic of weak faith, and might even betray a faulty view of God, who has for the most part revealed His will for us in Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). But, there are times and circumstances that defy doing anything else but appealing to our Father in heaven for specific direction, and we can at such times pray confidently for wisdom and guidance in faith (James 1:5).

Now, I could share an anecdote or two, but anecdotes are sometimes glibly dismissed with a “show me in Scripture where we might see that.” So, we’ll skip the personal anecdotes and go to a biblical illustration. “O.K., but don’t show me Gideon’s fleece,” one might say. “After all, Gideon had to throw the dice (oops!) fleece twice (Judges 6:36-40).” So, how about another example, the servant of Abraham (Genesis 24)?

Scripture does not give him a name, but tradition assigns him the name, Eliezer, meaning “God is my helper.” Whatever his name actually was, Eliezer surely fits him. His assignment is to find a wife, one who will meet Abraham’s specifications for his 40 year old son, Isaac. Clear instructions are given and divine help will subsequently be promised for the task, but “Eliezer” (let’s just call him that) is still left with a problem.

“What if the woman is unwilling to come back with me to this land? Shall I then take your son back to the country you came from?” Genesis 24:5 NIV

And, so the chapter records the prayer of “Eliezer” to the “LORD, God of my master Abraham” not just for “a wife” but for “the one YOU (Yahweh) have chosen for your servant Isaac.” “Eliezer” wants God’s best, the right woman for the right man, a woman who is not only willing to marry Isaac, but a woman willing to return with him to Canaan, a country not her own, not one she is familiar with, to a wed a man she has never met and does not know! Wow!

For this mission and task, “Eliezer” needs something more than a “chapter and verse.” But it is to the “chapter and verse” God (yes, the truths of God known in Abraham’s day, were passed down most accurately by oral tradition and then subsequently recorded by Moses), that “Eliezer” knows he can appeal for help! His knowledge of God shapes his confident approach to God! And, the narrative in chapter 24 discloses how “Eliezer’s” faith was rewarded!

You can read Genesis chapter 24 for yourself, but I have made some observations that might help us when we encounter those rare, “I really need special direction” moments.

The Characteristics of the “Eliezer” Prayer for Guidance: Informal, personal, intimate, reflects the heart of man devoted to Abraham and His God. Heart in prayer trumps form!

Three Main Elements: 1) Petition for success grounded in a mission appointed by God. 2) Appeal to God’s Covenant Love and Promises to Abraham. 3) Request for a specific supernatural sign.

Three Noteworthy Features: 1) His prayer is repeated underscoring its significance for us (Genesis 24:12-14; 42-45; cf. Romans 15:4). 2) His prayer testifies to God’s faithfulness, loyal love and promises (Genesis 24:12, 27 & 42). 3) It appears that His prayer was supported by that of at least one other (Genesis 24:62-64).

Sooner or later, all of us will face something that defies human wisdom, and even our understanding of Scripture. But the God who is revealed in Scripture, who has given us a New Covenant binding His Bride to Himself forever, will not fail the believer who appeals to Him in faith in the time of crisis! To that I can humbly testify.