The war is won, but the battle is certainly not over.
Recently, a rather troubling thought keeps coming to mind: Why is it that in the midst of a tragedy, leaning on the Lord is seen as amazing and a story worth sharing...and yet...a few months after the fact, using the name "Jesus" respectfully is an offense. an abhorrence. a nuisance?
Folks, God hasn't changed. He is still the Strength and Peace and Joy and salvation we need every single day.
Tonight, I had the privilege of singing Christmas carols to a terminally ill, 5 year old boy who isn't expected to make it until Christmas. It was truly a Hallmark movie moment. The family and surrounding neighbors have lights and decorations up, fake snow in the bushes, and joy in their hearts. After we sang, the children ran around the yard, turning cartwheels and using some of the girls as horses. The parents stood and talked to us of God's goodness and faithfulness and how He sustains them every day, in the midst of grief.
The parents are facing the loss of their child and yet they opened their home to us for Thanksgiving dinner in case we aren't able to make it home. They brought dessert out to us. They told us their home is always open...except when they're not home, and then it will be open as soon as they get back. That's only the beginning. This family goes around to other families facing the same painful realities they are and brings gifts to them. But most importantly of all, they share the Gospel because they get it.
They understand that life is not a game. Life is not a guarantee. Every day is a blessing. Every single day, we look eternity eye-to-eye. There's not a single one of us here who knows how many more tomorrows the Lord will choose to grant us.
And we have a choice to make: will Satan get the last laugh, or will we be able to look him straight in the eye and say, "Bring it on, though guy. Guess what? I've already won."?
I fear too many of us try to dance around Satan. We think we can trick him into leaving us alone. We think a self-made righteousness--doing and saying the right things at the right time, while "important" people are watching--will get us by. But that is exactly what will trip us up.
There is such a burden on my heart for those who don't know Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord. All my life, I have loved people, but I have shied away from proclaiming the cold hard Truth for fear of offending or having people tune me out. I can't do that any longer. I have seen too much death for that to be a possibility even one more night.
You see, tonight, a whole bunch of people will die, and you could be one of them. That's truth number one.
Truth number two: when you die, you will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. ...that's a long time, in case you didn't know. Please don't tune me out already. I'll try to keep it short.
Truth number three: I love each and every one of you dearly--even those of you I have not personally met--and I do not want to spend forever without you because you denied Christ and are unable to dwell in heaven with us.
Truth number four: God loves you more. More than you or I could ever perceive. I'll prove it.
You've heard it said, "Jesus died on the cross for you..." Let's do a quick history lesson on Roman crucifixions like the one Jesus endured for you. The 39 lashes given to this sinless One, fully man and yet fully God, were not like when your friend snaps you with a wet towel because you deserved it. On the ends of 9 leather strips were lead and broken bone that would penetrate the skin and tear chunks of muscle from the body as they were ripped away. The lashes were distributed from the shoulders to the calves, and He wasn't wearing that loin cloth like you saw in The Passion. It is believed that by the time Jesus had made it through the lashes, His internal organs were nearly exposed. After that, they draped a robe across His bloodied body and He carried His cross nearly 1/3 a mile, until He could physically carry it no more. It would have taken nearly 90 minutes to make it to where His cross would be put in the ground, and when He got to the top of the hill, they tore the robe from His body, re-opening His wounds. Driving spikes through His wrists and feet, they missed every major artery and vein, yet struck the largest nerves in the area. That secured Him to the cross, certainly not a smooth, finished one like we display in our watered-down sanctuaries. Splinters and knobs would have scraped against His raw back every time He breathed in or out. And the breaths did not come easily. In fact, many deaths that occurred on crosses were due to suffocation. The weight of the body often dislocated shoulders and elbows. With the stretching of the arms, it was impossible to get a breath without using leg muscle to push up on the feet that you will recall have a spike driven through the largest nerve. His death was ugly. His death was real. His death was out of an unexplainable, unending love for broken, miserable, hateful people. That is truth number five.
Truth number six: The death He endured not only demonstrated the lengths to which His love will go, but it was also the ransom payment for all of our sins. past.present.and future.
Truth number 7: Jesus rose from the dead after three days, conquering death.
Truth number eight: If you will believe that Jesus was the blameless son of God, and repent of your sins, He will forgive you. That's a promise. (Repent: turn away from your sin and towards God, a complete 180.) You do not have to make your life right before you go to God, you just have to go.
Truth number nine: "Becoming a Christian" is not just about the salvation (forgiveness of sin so that you can be with a perfect, just, holy God). It's about Lordship. Who are you letting run the show? Be careful. This still is not about you. Lordship is still about God. It's giving Him control and letting Him take over.
Sometimes, I still struggle with giving God complete control of my life. I often have to remember that He would not have willingly endured all He did just so I would follow Him so He can make my life miserable. I do a fine job of that on my own!
His desire is to make my life complete, and that's His desire for your life, too.
He has already done it all. There is absolutely nothing you can do to add to or take away from this incredible love story. It is by grace, through faith we are saved. The one and only part you play in this story is accepting the free gift of forgiveness and abundant life that God offers. By placing your faith in Christ and Christ alone, you can have hope for the future, and assurance for tomorrow--no matter what tomorrow brings.
If you have not already repented and given your life to God...will you? And if so, when? There are no magic words; only a sincere heart is required. May I remind you: tomorrow may never come.