Text of a Candle Light Vigil

On Friday, Feb 19, a terrible, terrible tragedy and crime occurred in Celina TX that has shaken this community, town, and region to its core. We’d like to think that such terrible things happen far away from us, and far away from our safe neighborhoods; but we’ve discovered a terrible truth that evil can happen right next door.

Our hearts are broken over the victims, a mother and her two young teen children (a girl and a boy); our outrage is almost boundless toward the perpetrator; and our illusions of safety have been shattered. And that is why we have gathered together this evening to remember the victims, offer comfort and support to one another, and pray that such things never happen again.

We don’t know what went on in this house or the evolution of evil or madness that grew in in the husband’s heart; but we do know that there are better ways to deal with our emotions than letting them all loose: better ways to resolve family problems than violence and murder: better choices than rage, hate, and revenge: and better outcomes than this tragedy of death, destruction, and ruin. But these things seem to happen more and more these days. And it seems clear that as…

    • …people embrace the idea that they are justified in unleashing their anger and hatred in words and deeds, violence grows.
    • That when people believe that they are their own judge of right and wrong, that the world simply gets darker.
    • That as courtesy and kindness are deemed old-fashioned, that violent, provocative words multiply exponentially.
    • That as people believe that they really can’t help themselves, that there’s no God, no judgment, and no consequences in this world or the next — they become more hopeless, more self-centered, and more malevolent.
    • As people reject the ideas of responsibility, self-control, and God’s unchanging standard of right and wrong the world descends into deeper and deeper evil.

You see, when God is factored out, anything goes, civilization and society breaks down, individuals sink into hopelessness, the beastly law of the jungle prevails, and “might becomes right”. Mankind’s worldly wisdom always ends up at the same tragic destination.

So, what is there for us to do?

We can most importantly let this tragic event remind us of the profound need we have for God, to both guide us and comfort us. It is the Lord alone who can not only offer comfort and peace, but also makes things right in the end. The apostle Paul tells us that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28), and we can rely on both the promise and the Promiser in the here and now and the hereafter. It is in Him we must place our trust. Though we don’t know all the things that went on in the heart of the perpetrator, such acts are often the result of hopelessness. But God offers hope and justice and peace. Place your hearts and hands and lives into God hands in faith and obedience. He specializes in mending broken hearts, broken souls, and broken lives.

We’re reminded of this life’s transitory and fragile nature. The NT writer James compared life to a “vapor” — now you see it, now you don’t. COVID has already reminded of us this, but the kind of tragedies like the one on Hickory Lane are even sharper prompts — not so that we will invest so much more in this life, as much as that we should remember to “store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matt. 6:20).

But this tragic event also reminds us how important community and relationships are — even in a age of COVID, social distancing, and masking. This evening is a wonderful demonstration of the community, support, comfort, counsel, and solidarity found in this neighborhood — manifested in this candle-light vigil. We should thank the organizers for this and for reminding us by all the candles here that there is more to our neighborhoods than superficial greetings as we jog by, or see each other as we mow our lawns, or pick our kids from school. There are friendships, sharing, and support to be found behind many a door, and that we must be our brother’s keeper.

It reminds us of how important compassion is…of how we need to be more aware of one another’s struggles…how we should reach out to each other with listening ears, encouraging words, and genuine concern.

This evening we remember, the three victims. Not many of us here knew them well, but we will always remember this tragedy. To all who grieve and strain to know why, no reason will be satisfying, but if I may offer a final couple of words of spiritual advice…

      • Pour your heart out to God in prayer; you’ll find no greater friend
      • Pr.3:5 “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding.”
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Christian Love, Part 2

Paul starts his teaching about Christian love in 1 Cor. 13 with some of the harder facets of this great virtue…

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Christian Love, Part 1

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Something to check out

As many of you who know me will know, I have moved from New England to Texas. I’m now the pulpit minister for the Rock Hill church of Christ in Frisco, Texas. One of the things that I’m doing is a Monday through Friday video devotional titled “Rock Hill Reflections” Below is a sample of the video found on Facebook Mon.-Fri — @rhcoc. If you find it useful you could “subscribe” to and get a daily shot of encouragement or something to think about. Let me know what you think. 🙂

Found Monday through Friday on Facebook, @rhcoc

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Calling God on the Carpet??

“Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”Job 38:3

Poor Job! Not only was he impoverished in a day, but he lost his family, and his health! And to make matters even worse, he was trying to understand what had happened to him with a mistaken point of view — which the rest of the world of his (and ours) often holds. His mistaken paradigm was “I’m good and should be rewarded; only the bad get punished.” To make matters even worse, his friends came to call on him to repent of stuff he didn’t do — because “The good are rewarded and the bad are punished.” Up until this verse quoted above Job had vigorously professed his innocence and begun to call on God to correct His mistake.

The problem was, of course, that Job was wrong and God was right.

It’s a common problem even today, and I’m not just talking about the question of why bad things happen to good people! We live in a world that has some very strong opinions about what is right and wrong, about what is correct and incorrect, what God should be approving of and what He should not be approving of. The issues range from questions of morality, what is true, true religion in general, what political party God must belong to (really?), and even about spiritual reality like Heaven and Hell. And in many a mind, the assumption is that prior teachings, found in the Bible itself (the very word of God), must be wrong and what we currently think must be right.

In the book of Job, God calls Job’s call for correction of His will on the carpet, “Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!” God calling on Job to compare his abilities to God’s, his knowledge to God’s, his power to God’s, his wisdom to God’s. After a fashion, He was challenging Job to see if Job could “measure up”.
The same questions really should be asked of self-important, modern men and women today. Will we really ask God to check His work? Reconsider right and wrong? Withdraw His commands about sexuality, gender, roles, church, worship, priorities, and morality? Will we really try to play the teacher and “bleed all over” the Bible with our little red pens? We must be really smart to “school” the Creator of the Universe; the One who ordered the stars and planets; and the One who made man, woman, marriage, and family. We must be super-extra smart to know better about the changes that “must” happen with modern culture than the One who has foreseen things to the end of time. Yep, God needs to sky-write “Gird up you loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me!”

After God helped Job to realize how weak, foolish, ignorant, and limited he was as a human being with an awesome tour-de-force of God’s infinite power, wisdom, and knowledge; all Job could say was, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did know know. Hear now and I will speak — I will ask You, and You instruct me.” (Job 42:3,4).

The solutions to the world’s problems, the solution to religion’s problems, the solution to the church’s problems boil down to the epiphany, in which we finally admit, “I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me…I will ask You, and You instruct me.” It’s the best teaching anyone could ever have, and the best prayer anyone could ever pray.

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The LORD Showed Moses His Back

 

Moses was called the friend of God. With Moses the LORD spoke “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11 and Numbers 12:6-8). At one point, then, Moses asked of God a special favor, “I pray You, show me Your glory! (Exodus 33:18)” God answered his request by telling Moses, that he would hide Moses with His “hand”, pass all His goodness before him, but only ultimately let Moses “…see My back, but My face shall not be seen. (Exodus 33:19-23)” This was simply because no man can see God’s face and live (Exodus 33:20). Of course, God doesn’t have a literal face and literal back; rather, these are metaphors for the full glory of God versus a diminished version of the glory of God. Thus, Moses was shown a diminished version of God, which was enough to cause Moses’ face to shine (Exodus 34:29) for a while. What a grand privilege!

We may envy Moses perhaps; but the principle actually applies even today to Christians today. You may have never thought of it this way before, but we have also been shown the “back” of glory.

Consider for example, that Jesus (divinity, equal to the Father) came in the flesh and as the apostle Philip asked (very much like Moses) to be shown the Father, Jesus said, “Have I been so long with you, and you do not know Me?” Moses had to content himself with the “back” of God; but what Christians have may be better than His “back”; we’ve had God live among us — Emmanuel. While among us, He showed us God’s mercy, compassion, wisdom, fiery anger at sin, forgiveness toward repentant hearts, focus on spiritual things rather than on material things, and more. Not God’s full glory, but glory enough to swell the heart with wonder and humility.

Connected to this, every Christian baptized into Christ has been granted the promise of Acts 2:38, the Holy Spirit indwelling us as the presence of God, an honor without equal in this world; but one day we’ll see and dwell with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit to face (see 1 Cor. 13:12).

Right now, we are already God’s redeemed people. However, one day we will be “bought back” from this fallen world, doomed to death and corruption, and be full redeemed in resurrected bodies living in a new heaven and earth of perfection in the very presence of God (see Romans 8:18-25).  

While still living in this world, we are now saved, although we have the potential to fall away again (see the parable of the sower, Matthew 13). One day, however, but we will understand full salvation; a full and final rescue from a sin-filled, tragedy filled, sickness and pain filled, and death filled world (Revelation 21:4). A world so wondrously different that we cannot even imagine it (1 Corinthians 2:9). 

We have eternal, new life here, in the forms of our walk following after Christ and God’s promise. But one day we’ll get to live that same kind of life forever in a new heaven and earth — the promise fulfilled — a life greater and more glorious than any we’ve ever known or known about!

We know joy here, but one we’l know fullness of joy forever.

We are indeed sons even now, inheritors of the wonderful things God has in store for us; but only as “minor children”; one day we’ll “gain majority” and be full inheritors.

Every Sunday we have fellowship in communion with the Lord and with others; but this weekly communion is just the poor shadow of the grand banquet in Heaven

The list could easily go on, but the point is that as many blessings and privileges that we know here, we will know more fully at Jesus’ second coming. All that God will show us now is the “back” of the blessings, but one day we will see them face to face in all their glory and fullness.

While on earth below, we might grow weary and discouraged with things as they are; but we must always be mindful that the joys, promises, blessings, and hopes we have in Christ in the here and now are only — can only be— the “back” of those joys, promises, blessings, and hopes. The fullness to come is more, so much more.

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Is the End Coming?

I’ve observed several blogs and email warnings crossing the internet over the past several days speculating that the End is near. It is all in the context of, first, the COVID-19 pandemic, and second, a lot of political radicalization that has painted “the opposition” as being the anti-Christ. So, whatever it’s worth in an ocean of internet opinion on the subject, I thought I would weigh in with some important observations from the Bible.

First, the Bible tells us that the End will indeed be a turbulent time, but only for Christians. Jesus said that when the End comes that people will be going about their daily lives as if nothing were wrong: “For the coming of the Son of Man will be just like the day of Noah. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and they did to understand until the flood came and took them all away; so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matt. 24:37-39). Notice that men will be making plans for the future as if there would be many more days ahead. Paul’s teaching was in accord with this, too, “For you yourselves know full well that the day of the Lord will come just like a thief in the night. While they are saying, ‘Peace and safety!’ then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape” (1 Thess. 5:2,3). 

However, things will be different for Christians; Satan will be loosed and God’s people will be under malevolent attack, surrounded as in a siege (Rev. 20). Jesus put it on a parallel with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple (AD 70) in His dual prophecy of Matthew 24. 

Secondly, you should know that before the the End comes, there will a great anti-Christ, however, he/she will be, generally speaking, universally hailed as a great leader and even a god. The tendency down through the centuries has been to label every authority that we don’t like as evil and an anti-Christ. The Pope, Hitler, Stalin, and others have been so labeled in the past. Today different parties point the finger at Trump or Pelosi, depending on your political leanings. The book of 2 Thessalonians 2 gives us more details, and I would invite you to read it for yourself; but suffice it to say that the things said in that prophecy don’t match anything that we can see in current events.

But what about the current pandemic? The Bible tells us that there will be disasters, earthquakes, famines, plagues, wars, and more that will continue to curse the world; but they are not signs of an imminent end of the world. Sometimes they are punishments from the Lord (I know this is politically incorrect to say these days, but it is very biblical), sometimes they are just random things that happen in this old fallen world, and sometimes they are the consequences of men’s sins. But the Bible tells us that we may expect such catastrophes in the normal course of history from time to time. 

So, while it is absolutely certain that the End will come, that Jesus will return, that this world (and universe) will be destroyed, that all of the dead will be raised, and that everyone will be judged by the great Judge Jesus; it does not appear that any of the events that are roiling our current lives are signs that the end is near.

But now, if I may, I would like to say a word to those who are suggesting to others that the End is truly near, that we are in the “end times”. Although I am confident that your intentions are good; you want to motivate people to finally come to the Lord. But there’s a problem that you might not have thought about. When Christians go around telling people that the Lord is coming very soon, and it doesn’t happen, it disappoints and gives the Bible and all of Christianity a bad name. When it doesn’t come to pass, it destroys faith and makes it almost impossible to reach them again — “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.”

Now, I don’t say all this to pat everyone’s hand and say, “Don’t worry about things, you have plenty of time to come to the Lord.” The end of the world may not be at hand, but our individual ends could come within an hour of reading this. Any one of us could get infected with COVID-19 and be one of the unfortunate folks who dies from it; you could cross the street and get sideswiped by a car; you could pick up something heavy and have a stroke; etc. Jesus’ counsel is to get ready and remain ready to meet your Maker. You get ready by becoming a Christian: believe in Jesus as the Son of God, repent of sin, confess Jesus as Lord, be baptized for forgiveness of sins, follow Jesus faithfully — including to church.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Resurrection Day

The Scripture doesn’t give us an exact time of the resurrection of Jesus, but in putting together a few clues — 1) the women arrived just at daybreak, 2) the soldiers appear to be just picking themselves up on the ground from becoming like dead men at the appearance of the angel who rolled away the stone — it would appear that Jesus rose from the dead just before dawn on the first day of the week.

Before the sun had arisen, several women who followed Jesus got up and went to the tomb to finish anointing the body of Jesus. A problem was anticipated, though; who would roll the stone away for them? The tomb was guarded, sealed, and really heavy. However, when women arrived, they got news that they could scarcely believe from an angel who had rolled the stone away to reveal an empty tomb. “He is not here, He is risen!” 

Mary Magdalene ran immediately to tell the apostles. Upon hearing this amazing news, Peter and John ran to the tomb to check it out. Mary, who had already run all the way to where the apostles were (and was probably tired) trailed behind the two running men. Peter and John arrived at the tomb and looked into the empty tomb, but they don’t understand and they walk away puzzled. Meanwhile, 

Mary finally arrives back at the tomb, fatigued, confused, and deeply grieved. She peers into the tomb and sees angels there, who ask her why she is weeping. “They’ve taken away my Lord and I don’t know where they’ve laid Him,” she replied. A “gardener” shows up and Mary, through tears, asks him where the body of Jesus was; to which the “gardener” simply replied, “Mary.” Immediately Mary’s ears recognized what her tear filled eyes didn’t see, Jesus. She fell at His feet, but Jesus gave her a new job, to tell the disciples that she had seen the resurrected Jesus. 

Meanwhile the other women returning to tell the apostles of an empty tomb also see the resurrected Jesus. Mary and the other women possibly arrived where the apostles and other disciples were staying about the same time, with similar but different stories. 

A little later in the day, two disciples (one named Cleopas), were walking back to a town called Emmaus. As they were discussing the amazing events of the crucifixion, the confusing report of an empty tomb and mind-blowing reports of the women who claimed to have seen the Lord, they were joined by a stranger who asked a lot of questions and opened their minds to how all these events could not only be true but fulfillment of prophecy. As they arrived in Emmaus about dinner time, they invited the stranger to stay and have dinner. As the stranger broke the bread, their eyes were opened to realize that it had been Jesus the whole time — who then disappeared before them. The men in joy rushed back to Jerusalem and the apostles to report a new sighting of the Lord.

Between the women’s reports, the empty tomb, and the apostles disbelief there seems to have been a bunch of head scratching in the upper room where they had gathered — until Jesus appeared in their midst in a locked upper room. There the apostles were given the opportunity to touch and have tangible proof that Jesus had truly arisen from the dead. 

Jesus had risen, really risen from the dead!!

What does it mean?

Jesus is the Christ — The one sign that Jesus gave to doubting opponents that He was the Son of God was what was called the “sign of Jonah”, three days and three nights in the tomb from which He would arise. It happened and truly proved that He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God!

Our sins are really forgiven — The cross was the key to our salvation, but the resurrection is the key to belief. Had Jesus not risen from the dead there would be no evidence that our sins have really been forgiven, but because He did, we have no doubts.

The skepticism of the apostles is a good thing — While we may cluck our tongues at the disbelief of the apostles (Why didn’t they listen to His predictions and teachings about His resurrection?) the skepticism of the apostles gives us strong reason to believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead. These men were not naive bumpkins who were easily fooled into believing pretty much anything. In their experience — just as in ours — the dead remain dead. They were skeptics until they had been able to see with their own eyes, touch with their own hands, and hear with their own ears. We should be thankful for their disbelief, because it didn’t remain doubt after the evidence was given — if these skeptics could believe, we can too.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Saturday, 7th Day Sabbath

Hopefully, you missed my posting. I didn’t post anything early on purpose, to illustrate the silence of God during seasons of our lives. In the disciples’ lives at this point in the story that’s exactly what they felt. Jesus was still in His tomb, the questions were still swirling in their hearts, the future was dim and not looking good. But God was not “late for work”. God’s plan just needed to run its course.

What about your life? Especially in days like these, when the future looks hazy at best. God is still at work, sometimes His plan just needs to run its course. Keep praying, keeping following His will, and stand amazed at what God does.

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A Walk With Jesus Through His Last Week — Friday, Passover

So, for the past several days we’ve been following Jesus around in His last week on earth as an earthly human. Most days were chock full of teaching, healings, and confrontation of enemies. Thursday, yesterday, was likewise full, but in a different way — both profoundly tragic and eternally significant. 

But on Friday, a Passover Sabbath, Jesus’ body lay in a borrowed tomb. Jesus’ spirit on the other hand was in Paradise. As I was trying to speak of the major events of Jesus’ crucifixion yesterday, I skipped over the incident of Jesus’ conversation with the two thieves crucified on either side of Him. Other Gospels reference the other thieves, but only Luke tells us how one of the thieves repented of the mocking things they had said to Him earlier and asked Jesus to remember him in Christ’s kingdom. In response to this repentance, Jesus famously told him, “This day will you be with Me in Paradise.” 

Some may be wondering, “What and where is Paradise?”

When a person dies (any person) their soul (the spiritual substance of who they really are) are taken to a place called Sheol (Hebrew name) or Hades (Greek name), the realm of all the dead. A thorough study of Luke 16:19ff could be done for more detailed information (or I’ve written a book on the topic entitled “What Comes Next?”). The “where” is probably not findable by GPS, but was often (probably metaphorically) located deep in the earth. In Hades (Sheol) there are two sections divided by a deep chasm. In one section the souls of the sinful and unrepentant are tormented (called Tartarus); in the other section, the souls of the righteous and saved are comforted (called Paradise by Jesus as He spoke with the thief on the cross). 

We do not know for certain what Jesus did in Paradise. There is one New Testament statement that alludes to some activity, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water” (1 Peter 3:18-20). However, knowing more is apparently not to our advantage, so we know no more (Deuteronomy 29:29 ““The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law”).

Jesus’ disciples, on the other hand, found themselves deeply grieved, confused, and disappointed on this Passover. The only statement made in Scripture that speaks to their hearts’ thoughts is found in Luke 24:18-22 as part of the story of two of Jesus’ disciples walking on the way to Emmaus pondering the reports of Christ’s resurrection. A “stranger” joins them and starts asking questions, “One of them, named Cleopas, answered and said to Him, ‘Are You the only one visiting Jerusalem and unaware of the things which have happened here in these days?’ And He said to them, ‘What things?’ And they said to Him, ‘The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word in the sight of God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to the sentence of death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, it is the third day since these things happened. ‘But also some women among us amazed us. When they were at the tomb early in the morning,’” His disciples relate their high hopes about Jesus as the Messiah, the wonderful signs and miracles He performed, and how they had hoped that He would be the one to redeem Israel — but how He had been tragically condemned and crucified. And all Passover (the first time that Israel had been redeemed), they had probably tried to make some sense out everything they had seen and heard — all in the midst of their shock and grief.

What can we learn?

When bad, shocking, grief inducing, inexplicable tragedy occurs in our lives — as they often do — instead of letting it weaken our faith; maybe what we need to is take a step back. Although we can occasionally make some sense of events in our lives, we also need to realize that God may be doing something wonderful that we may not be able to make sense of in our wildest imagination. Instead, we need to trust the Lord to work things out in His own time, while we just do what we ought to be doing.

See you tomorrow, Lord willing.

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