Bringing truth to life

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be transported back in time and see the characters of the bible come to life?  We got about as close as you can get with John Wason’s recent performance of “Loss to Redemption” from the book of Ruth.  We were transfixed.  It seems as if the very characters leapt off the page.

John leads a ministry called ‘Word to Life’, which I would sum up as ‘storytelling like you’ve never seen or heard it.’  John launched Word to Life in Tauranga back in 2004 while he was working here in New Zealand.  Word To Life is a development of John’s previous work, Out of Silence Mime Theatre, which began at Youth With A Mission’s (YWAM) Academy of Performing Arts in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada, in 1994.

Since 2004 John has completely memorized[1] and dramatized entire books of the bible including Philippians, James, Jonah, Ruth, Galatians, Colossians and just recently, 2 Timothy.  He has also performed selected Psalms, “Encounters” – stories of lives impacted by Jesus, and “The Easter Report”, where a reporter interviews a number of people who witnessed the Resurrection of Jesus.

I asked John in an interview on Sunday morning to explain his ministry a little more to us and what drives him to do what he does.  This was his answer (paraphrased):

“I love theatre, I love drama and I love God’s Word.  When you put all that together this is what you get.  It is story telling with three simple components: purpose, passion and presence.  You often hear God’s Word taught with purpose.  If it’s a good sermon, it will also have passion.  But you don’t always get presence.  Presence is ‘being there’ in what you are communicating, making yourself transparent and revealing by way of body language, facial expression and gestures how the truth you are communicating has affected or is affecting you.  It’s making the truth live.”

I was all ears.  As a regular communicator of God’s Word, this was something I needed to hear.  Too often preachers become detached from their message, so the truth is merely abstract.  Abstract truth can’t be easily grasped by the average hearer.  Truth must be internalized – it must be felt.  It can’t simply stimulate the mind; it must reach the heart and warm the affections.

This is where story telling can become so effective.  By “story telling” I don’t mean telling lots of stories that are funny, appealing or emotive.  There’s too much of that going on from lazy preachers who can’t be bothered doing the hard yards to study the bible and dig for the Spirit-intended truth.  I mean teaching the bible in such a way that people see the truth come to life.

Story telling can be just as effective for adults as with children.  My wife Francelle heads up our children’s ministry in our church and has been putting story telling into practice with the kids.  Recently she had to give a talk at a retirement home.  She decided to put it into practice there to see how it went.  She taught from Mark chapter 5 on the healing of the woman who had suffered 12 years of bleeding.  But she told it as a story (because it IS a story), putting herself in the place of the woman, who desperately wants to be healed but is afraid of touching Jesus because he might become like her – unclean.  What she doesn’t realize is that nothing can make Jesus unclean, but everything he touches becomes instantly clean.  The response was immediate.  Instead of dozing, they were attentive, eyes wide open and as John Wason says, “leaning in.”

It should hardly surprise us that people respond well to stories.  This was how God’s truth was passed on from generation to generation with the people of Israel.  This was how Jesus communicated Kingdom truths to the masses.  And this is how many people today are drawn to know more about Christ.  They hear someone’s testimony; they hear a story.

If you want engagement with people when teaching God’s truth, utilize the power of story.

Here’s a short clip of John in action when he performed at our church one Sunday morning.  The scene is Boaz waking up to find Ruth lying at his feet.  Enjoy!  (footnote: John played 7 different characters from that one shawl.)

John and his wife Shelly continue as full-time staff with the international organization Youth With A Mission (YWAM) and live in Victoria, BC, Canada with their sons Timothy, Daniel, and Jeffrey.  We met up with them here in Nelson while they were on a recent tour to New Zealand.  John is planning to tour NZ again in 2020.  If you are interested in having him perform you can contact him at wasonworld@wasonworld.com

[1] John chose the NIV for memorization as it is one that is most well-known and also flows well when spoken orally.

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Behold the Man!

Ecce Homo (Behold the Man!) by Antonio Ciseri

Much focus is placed upon the crucifixion of Jesus at Easter, and so it should be.  But the steps leading up to the crucifixion, including his arrest and trial are just as moving.  It demonstrates the greatness of God’s love for sinners and the infinite lengths he has gone to redeem us.

Take the trial scenes alone.  There were six phases to the trial of Jesus leading to his crucifixion; three Jewish trials and then three Roman trials.

  1. It began with the trial before Annas, who tried unsuccessfully to get Jesus to incriminate Himself (John 18:12-14; 19-24).
  2. Jesus was then sent to Caiaphas, who brought false witnesses who contradicted one another (Matt. 26:57-68). The whole process was completely illegal, taking place in the middle of the night.  According to the laws of the Sanhedrin, any steps in criminal proceedings after sunset was expressly prohibited.  In desperation, Caiaphas intervened and got Jesus to state openly that He was the Christ, the Son of God, resulting in the Jewish leaders declaring Him guilty of blasphemy (Matt. 26:63-66).
  3. Then, at daybreak, in an effort to somehow legitimize the miscarriage of justice, there was the trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin. The witnesses against Him were known perjurers (Matt 26:59–60), were not sworn, and their evidence was not consistent.

Since the Jews did not have the right of capital punishment, they had to get the Roman authorities to convict Jesus on charges of insurrection.

  1. First was the trial before Pilate, the Roman governor. Pilate demanded a formal accusation, which they brought under three counts: (a) He perverted the nation, (b) He forbade tribute to Caesar, and (c) He claimed to be their king (Luke 23:2). The first two unsubstantiated counts were dismissed by Pilate, but the third was so serious that he could not ignore it, since it was treason against Rome.  However, after questioning Jesus, he gets nowhere as he finds nothing that Jesus has done wrong (Luke 23:1-4)
  2. Pilate then sends Jesus to Herod the Tetrarch, who had authority over all Galilee and was in Jerusalem at the time (Luke 23:6-12). Jesus remained silent before Herod, who sent Him back to Pilate for the final verdict (John 18:38b-19:16).
  3. Although Pilate found Jesus to be innocent and tried to find a way to release Him (he pronounces Jesus innocent three on three separate occasions), he finally capitulated to the pressure of the Jewish mob and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

J Oswald Sanders, in his book The Incomparable Christ, writes,

“Never were legal proceedings more irregular or verdict more unjust than in the trial of Jesus. From arrest to crucifixion every principle of justice was violated, and provisions of both criminal and ecclesiastical law flouted.”

I don’t know if you have ever been falsely accused.  I have and it feels pretty rotten.  The urge to protest and scream, “This isn’t right or fair!” is very strong and difficult to control.  Yet Jesus remained perfectly calm; perfectly in control.  He had to, for this is what he came for.  He was the perfect, sinless substitute who alone was qualified to atone for our sin.  These trials proved it.

While preparing my message in John’s gospel, I came across this piece written by Robert E Speer.  It captures the perfect composure of the Son of God in the face of rejection, injustice and unbelief.

I found it deeply moving.

“He said but little, but He said enough, and no word of His ever bore testimony to the truth, or revealed more fully the majesty of His divine life than the uncomplaining patience and self-possession and composure of His conduct under the hideous treatment to which He was subjected; when after His condemnation before Caiaphas, the men who held Him, in pretence that He was a dangerous character spit in His face and mocked Him, and beat Him, and blindfolding Him, struck and reviled Him. “Prophesy unto us, Thou Christ: who is he that struck thee?”

When Herod with his soldiers set Him at nought and made sport of Him and sent Him back through the streets of the city arrayed in mock royal attire and became the friend of Pilate again through this sport—cursed be such friendships.

When in the hope, doubtless, of showing the people how harmless and inoffensive He was, Pilate had Him before the people with the jeering remark, ‘Behold the Man!’

When, after the surrender of Pilate, the whole band of the governor’s soldiers took Him, stripped, put on Him a scarlet robe, with a crown of acanthus thorns still piercing His brow and staining His face crimson like His robe, and giving Him a reed for a sceptre, played with Him as a mock king, spitting on Him and seizing His sceptre from His hand and smiting Him on the head with it, driving the thorn’s cruel spikes deeper into His brow; when at last they led Him away to Calvary, stripped of His robe, but still wearing His crown.

‘Behold the man!’ was Pilate’s jeer. That is what all the ages have been doing since, and the vision has grown more and more glorious. As they have looked, the crown of thorns has become a crown of golden radiance, and the cast-off robe has glistened like the garments He wore on the night of the Transfiguration. Martyrs have smiled in the flames at that vision, sinners have turned at it to a new life…. and towards it the souls of men yearn forever.”

Glory be to God.

 

 

When You Fail the Lord

Has there ever been a time in your life when you denied Christ?  That doesn’t just mean blatantly denying him, as Peter did.  There are many ways in which we deny Jesus:

    • By being ashamed of him
    • By not speaking about him in public
    • By our silence
    • By our lifestyle, which does not match our profession

We live in a culture that is increasingly hostile towards religion and specifically Christianity.  Christians are painted as morons and idiots (or worse – intolerable bigots) who believe in myths and fairy tales.  Out of fear of being mocked and ridiculed, we shrink back and clam up.  We don’t confess Christ.  And by not confessing him, we – like Peter, deny him.  So, I think this little story about Peter’s denial of Jesus speaks to each and every one of us.

Peter was ready to face anything for Jesus.  Or so he thought.  He pulled out his sword to take on the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus (he even got one good swipe in, taking off poor Malchus’ ear).  He followed Jesus into the courtyard of the High Priest when Jesus was facing his trial.  He boldly went where no other disciple would go and boldly said what none of the other disciples dared to speak.  None of the others acted so courageously as Peter.  Yet Peter did the one thing he vowed he would never do: he denied that he knew Christ – not just once, not twice but on three separate occasions.

Avoiding the Pathway of Failure

When it came to the crunch, Peter crumbled.  He fell, and he fell badly.  So, what can we learn from him?  What happened to Peter was no accident.  It could have been avoided (from a human standpoint).  There were five fatal mistakes that Peter made:

1. He boasted in his own strength

Earlier that night, Jesus warned all the disciples that they would fall away because of him (Matthew 26:31).  But Peter somehow thought that did not apply to him.  He was above that.  He was tough; he was determined.  He would stand strong. “Even if everyone falls away because of you, I will never fall away.” (Matthew 26:33)

What’s his problem?  He did not really know himself.  He did not understand the deceitfulness of his own heart.  The Apostle Paul warns us of this in 1 Corinthians 10:12

“So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall.”

The one who thinks he cannot fall into sin is in the most precarious position of all.  Don’t think that you are above temptation.  Don’t think that because of your age or your wisdom or your experience or your bible knowledge that you are above some sin.  You’re not.  Apart from God’s empowering grace, you are nothing.

I need to remind myself of this daily.  How easily I can be self-deceived!  I see other very well-known Christian leaders fall into sin and I say to myself, “That wouldn’t happen to me.  I wouldn’t do that.”  The moment that happens, I am in serious trouble.  Beware of pride and self-deception.  Beware of over-confidence.  You are not above any sin – even the sin of denying the Lord Jesus.

2. He failed to heed God’s warning

Jesus clearly warned Peter about what would take place that night.  Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times (John 13:38).  Peter was warned.  Yet that warning went unheeded.  He did not take the words of Jesus to heart.

If we are to avoid falling into sin, if we are to steer a wide path around temptation, we must give heed to Scriptural warnings.  And there are plenty of them for Christians.  There are warnings about sexual sin, warnings about ungodly influence, and warnings about spiritual apathy.  And yet time and time again I see Christians completely ignore these warnings, as if somehow they don’t apply to them.

3. He fell prey to the fear of man

This slave girl who was at the door, she is not someone Peter needed to fear – right?  So why does he fear her?  Because Peter, at that moment, was living in fear – the fear of man.  And the fear of man is a snare, Proverbs 29:25 tells us.  Fear of rejection, fear of ridicule, or in Peter’s case, fear for your own life will trap you and ultimately paralyze you.

The antidote to the fear of man is the fear of God.  Fear of God drives out all other human fears.

“The fear of mankind is a snare, but the one who trusts in the Lord is protected.” (Proverbs 29:25).

Peter learned his lesson.  Many years later, he wrote: “Do not fear what they fear or be intimidated, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:13–15)

When we reverence God properly in our lives and realize that His opinion is the one that ultimately matters, we will avoid the snare, disability, and paralysis that comes from cringing before the potential disapproval of man.

4. He allowed his sin to go unchecked

At the first blow of sin, when he lied to the servant girl, Peter should have stopped and recognized his sin.  He should have dealt with it right then and there, by confessing and repenting of it and then seeking God’s grace to stand strong next time.  But he didn’t.  He let his first sin go unchecked.  And whenever you let sin go unchecked you will fall headlong into the same sin soon after.

5. He warmed himself at the wrong fire

At first glance, it seems innocent enough.  It was a cold night, Peter was shivering, he needed to warm himself. But he chose the wrong place.  These were the enemies of Jesus, and he was trying to blend in with them, to act like them, and pretend that he did not know Jesus.

There’s nothing wrong with spending time with unbelievers.  That’s what we are supposed to do.  But not for the reason of trying to be like them.  Our purpose for being among unbelievers is to give evidence of the power of the gospel in our own lives.  How can we do that when we are trying hard to look like them? Learn the lesson of Peter!  Don’t go warming yourself at the wrong fire.

Conclusion

If the story ended here, it would indeed be a story of failure and defeat.  But it doesn’t.  It ends instead, at the end of John’s gospel on a beach, on another cold morning besides another fire.  There Jesus, following his resurrection, fully restores Peter and commissions him to the be leader of his new church.  There is an important principle at work here. A bone that is broken often becomes stronger after it is healed.

The same thing is true of our failures. God can take us where we are broken and make us stronger than we were before.

That’s what happened to Peter. His guilt was turned into grace; his shame into sympathy and his failure into faithfulness.  Is there proof of this?  There sure is!  Read the first few chapters of the book of Acts. The once loud, boisterous and cowardly Peter becomes a strong, dependable and courageous leader of the church.  He was the same man, but he was different.  In the hands of the Master Potter had been reshaped and refined.

Hope for The Fallen

There is hope for all of us—the best of us, the worst of us, and the rest of us.  There is hope because all of these sins – sins of failure, sins of regret, sins of disobedience, and sins of shame, have been born by Jesus on the cross.  They can be forgiven and wiped away.  Not only that, but the resurrection power of Jesus is available for us to give strength to live differently.  This is the good news of the gospel; fallen sinners can be restored and made new.  They can become useful again.

Take heart and believe the good news.  If He did it for Peter, He can do it for you.

Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached from the Gospel of John.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

Apprenticeship v. Internship: why we made the change

Recently I was interviewed on Sunday morning by our Youth Pastor, Sean Young about the new ministry apprenticeship track we have started at our church.  It’s a deliberate move away from internships (the classic model that has been used in churches for decades) to something that is more robust and intentional.

Here’s how the interview went:

Why have we started an apprenticeship program at Grace?

It’s the best training model.  And it’s proven.  Let me explain: when young people desire to enter into Christian ministry, the first thing they ask themselves is “How can I be trained?  How can I be prepared?”  They need two main things: 1) theological training, and 2) ministry experience.  So they sign up with a bible college somewhere and then work for a Christian camp or if they are lucky, get a part-time paid position in a local church.  But often the two aren’t connected.  So they’re learning all this head knowledge over here and trying to run a youth program over here with no one helping them to connect the two.  That’s why we’ve come up with an apprenticeship scheme.

I wanted to be Fitter-Turner engineer, so I signed up for an apprenticeship – 8000 hours (approx. 4 years) of training.  It was on training on the job, under a qualified tradesman.  He showed me how turn and cut steel on a lathe, how to sharpen drills, how to mill gears etc.  I went to block courses during the year where I learned all the theory – you know, the technical stuff and then came back to work and put that into practice, still watched by a tradesman.  By the end of it I could do everything a qualified tradesman could do.  This is how you train doctors and teachers and many other professions.  We simply want to do the same in the local church.  Put a young person under someone more experienced and train them on the job.

Why apprenticeship and not internship?

Because internships don’t equip people.  Here’s how an internship typically works:  you take an eager and promising young person who is keen for ministry.  He or she says, “I want to go into ministry.  I need some experience.  I’ll do anything.”  You say, “Great, we need someone to run this program over here.  We can pay you 15 hours.  But things are tight (you know how it is in the church…), we can only afford $6.00 an hour.  You start on Monday.  Oh, and by the way, if you have any problems, don’t call me.”  And what happens?  In 6 months the person is burnt out.  Or, if they do somehow survive, it’s by a miracle.  No one has invested in them.  No one has mentored them.  No one has explained what to do when ministry gets hard.  They throw their hands in the air and say, “I’m obviously not cut out for this.”

Sound familiar?  Happened to you?  We don’t want to do that here.  That’s why we are doing apprenticeships.  It’s an investment.

What does the program look like?

We are going to invest in a young person’s life and help form them in 3 critical areas:

  1. Conviction
  2. Character
  3. Competency

We bring them into the staff team, we absorb them in local church ministry, and we expose them to everything that happens in the local church, so they get to see how church ministry works, how they need to be led, how to deal with problem people and issues etc.   It’s a test run for them.  So, at the end of the apprenticeship they can say, “I sense that God is calling me to this full-time” or “I don’t sense the call to full-time ministry but I am now much better equipped for lay leadership in the local church.”  We also put those individuals under key leaders of ministry, so they can be discipled and mentored.  If they are young women, we put them under Francelle and Rochelle.  If they are young men, we put them under the likes of you or another male ministry leader.

We also want to direct them into good theological training.  I don’t want them signing up with any old place.  If they are going to study theology, let’s have them studying bible-based, gospel-grounded, Christ-centred theology that will provide them with a foundation that will last the journey.  Most Christian workers bail out – not because it was too hard or because they weren’t cut out of it, but because of inadequate theological preparation.  It’s the sole reason (aside from the grace of God) that I’m still sitting here after 25 years of ministry.

How does this all fit with our church’s mission – “God’s grace, to us, for the world?”

That’s a theological statement.  It’s a soundly biblical statement.  And it’s from the heart of God.  It will keep our church on track and on mission with God, as long as we remain faithful to it.  That’s where you need leadership – solid leaders, gospel-grounded leaders who will remain faithful to the mission.  What happens when all the present leaders die?  Who’s going to carry it on?  We need to raise up another generation of faithful leaders who clearly understand the church’s mandate and who are committed to gospel ministry who will lead God’s people forward and raise up another generation of faithful leaders who will then raise up another generation of leaders etc.

Why Mel? Why have we chosen her to be our first ministry apprentice?

She’s here.  She’s available.  And most importantly, she’s teachable.  Mel is one of us.  She is not an outsider.  She knows our church and she knows the people.  And she’s already proven to be faithful in the ministries she has served in.  What better person to start with?

Meet Melody Phipps, our new ministry apprentice at Grace.  Mel helps run our FUSE ministry, is part of the leadership team at DETONATE youth and serves in our children’s ministry on Sunday mornings.  She also works at Waimea Intermediate with 24/7, a program designed to place young Christian leaders in state schools for the purpose of mentoring and support.  Mel is studying toward a Diploma in Ministry Leadership through Pathways College and is being discipled by Sean Young and my wife Francelle. 

Rahab’s Redemption

Once there was a woman named Rahab.  She lived in a city called Jericho.  One day, a couple of Israelites visit her home.  She takes them in and hides them.  When the King’s men came looking for them, she tells them they had already left.  She lies.  Then she lets them down through a window on the outside of the city wall.

That’s how most people remember her.  But that’s not how God wants us to remember her.  He wants us to remember her for something else.

Rahab was a prostitute.  She made a living by selling her body for sex.  We are told that not just once, but five time in the Bible.  In Joshua 2:1 she is introduced as “a prostitute named Rahab.”  In chapter 6:22 Joshua gives orders to the spies to go the prostitute’s house and then in verse 25 she is named, “Rahab the prostitute.”  In James 2:25 we are reminded about “Rahab the prostitutee” and then in Hebrews 11:31 – that great chapter on the heroes of faith it says, “By faith Rahab the prostitute welcomed the spies in peace and didn’t perish with those who disobeyed.”

It seems that God is wanting to make a point.  When we hear the name “Rahab” he wants us to always remember her past.  Why?  Does he have something against prostitutes?  No more than he has things against you are I.  We are sinners just the same.  We’ve all broken God’s law – multiple times.  Then what?  Well, that’s what we are about to find out.

Taking Jericho

Jericho – the “City of Palms”, was a very famous city.  Located five miles west of the Jordan River, it blocked the entrance into the Promised Land.  And it was well fortified.  The city itself covered about 8 acres and it was surrounded by inner and outer walls.  The inner wall was 12 feet thick, the outer wall six feet thick and they both stood about 30 feet high.  The city was impregnable.  It was impossible to breach.  But not for God.  He was going to flatten it.  All the Israelites would do is stand by and watch.

Joshua sends two spies into the city of Jericho on a reconnaissance mission.  Like any good general, he wants to scope the enemy out.  The spies find their way to a prostitute’s house – a place where travellers frequent themselves, a place where they could remain undetected.  Well it doesn’t take long however before their cover is blown.  The King’s men come searching.  Rahab hides the Israelites on her roof and tells the King’s men they’ve already left – through the city gates.  Then she goes up on her roof, pulls away the flax where she hid them, and makes this astounding confession of her faith in Israel’s God,

 “I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.” (Joshua 2:9)

She tells them how she has heard how God dried up the water of the Red Sea and led his people through and what He did to the King of the Amorites and the nations.

“And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the Lord your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath.” (Joshua 2:11)

This is a most remarkable statement.  Rahab is a foreigner, a Canaanite.  She lives amidst a pagan culture that worships idols.  Yet she declares that Israel’s God – Yahweh (she uses His covenant name), rules over the heavens and the earth and all other gods.  In other words, the gods of her people are not true gods, the Lord is the only true God.

Rahab has put her faith in the One and only true God.  But note that her faith is not perfect.  She was not truthful to the King’s men.  She lied.  The New Testament commends her for what she did, not for what she said.  Her actions were of faith, not her lie.  Then she says to them,

“Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign” (Joshua 2:12)

Do you see that term “deal kindly”?  It is the word chesed.  It means steadfast love.  It is covenant language.  It is used by God to describe His covenant love for His people and it is used by God’s people to describe their covenant love for God.  It is never used by foreigners.

Here Rahab uses it to make a pledge with the spies.  She says, “Covenant with me.  Promise me you will protect me and my family.”   And the men covenant with her.  After letting them down by a rope through her window which was located on the outside of the city wall, they say to her, “Take this cord and hang it outside this window.  Keep all your family in your house.  Don’t go out of doors, and don’t tell a soul about this.  We’ll be back for you.”  And then they were gone.

The two men return and report everything to Joshua, including their encounter with Rahab.  They tell him,

“Truly the Lord has given all the land into our hands. And also, all the inhabitants of the land melt away because of us.” (Joshua 2:24)

The Lord gives very specific instructions on how the city would be taken.  They were to march around it six times and on the seventh time around, the priests were to blow their trumpets, and all the people were to shout with a great shout and God would bring the walls down.  No besieging of the city, no ramparts, no battering rams, not even a single arrow.  This battle would be the Lord’s.

Six times the Israelites would march around the city.  And every time they went around, they would see a bright scarlet cord hanging high up out of a window in the wall.  Joshua would say, “That is the house of Rahab the prostitute, whom the Lord will deliver.”  And on the seventh day the people marched around Jericho one last time, and the trumpets blew and they gave a great shout, and the walls came crashing down.  The Israelite army went in, and we are told in chapter 6 verse 21

“Then they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword.” (Joshua 6:21)

But Rahab and her father and her mother and her brothers and all who belonged to her were saved alive.

Our Jericho

That’s the story of Rahab’s deliverance.  But what does it mean?  And what does it teach us about the deliverance that God offers to us in Christ?

Today we live in a culture of violence, idolatry, materialism and sexual degradation.  We protect whales while we kill babies.  We ignore the starving while we install flat screen TV’s.  We worship sport and sex and materialism and violence.  We even watch movies that glorify the idols we worship.  This is the world we live in.  This is our Jericho.  God has declared war on it, and everyone who lives within its walls.  And a day is coming when it will be completely destroyed.  God will send His Joshua.  The skies will split apart and He will descend from heaven, riding on white horse and He comes to judge and make war (Revelation 19).  On his robe and on his thigh the name is written: King of kings and Lord of lords.  And we are told that the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, will hide themselves among the rocks of the mountains and they will call to the mountains,

 “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15–17)

Their hearts will melt with fear, just like the citizens of Jericho.  Better to be crushed by a mountain that to face God’s great King.

Rahab was a prisoner, just like us.  A prisoner of her culture, her idols and her lifestyle.  She longed to be free.  She began to hear of a great nation that was heading her way.  This nation had been delivered from bondage by a powerful God.  This God parted the Red Sea and buried armies.  Could this God also deliver her and her family?  Then she met the two Israelite spies.  She received them into her house.  She hid them.  She knew this may cost her life.  That no longer mattered.  Such was her longing to be free.  This was the moment Rahab’s chains came off.  When she took in the spies, her identity changed.  She was no longer a harlot of Jericho, she was Rahab of Israel.  By faith, she had joined her heart to them.  And in joined her heart to Israel, she was joining her heart to the Lord.

Do you see it?  Do you see the picture of the salvation we can find in Christ?  We are all Rehab’s.  We are spiritual idolaters.  We are prisoners of a city doomed for destruction.  And news has come of a great deliverer who can save us from destruction.  His name is Jesus.  His first mission on this earth was not to judge, but to save.  He lived a perfect life, He died in our place.  And on the third day He rose from the dead, proving that He had conquered sin and death and Satan.  If we are to be rescued, we must through in our lot with him.  We must join with Him.  And we must turn our backs on the world.  As Rahab was delivered from that kingdom of darkness in Jericho, and brought into the kingdom of Israel, so too we can be delivered from this kingdom of darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13).

Epilogue

When the trumpets sounded for the final time and the Israelites gave forth a great shout, the walls of Jericho fell.  Joshua’s army went in, and mercy was shown to no one.  No one that is, except for Rahab and her household.  There, in the crumbled ruins of Jericho, one section of wall remained – Rahab’s house.  God brought down every section of wall, except this one.  God enabled it to stand.  It stood because it was joined to an eternal habitation that could not be shaken.  The house of Rahab had become a house of God.

Imagine what it must felt like that day for Rahab and her household.  Here she comes, stepping out of the front door of her house, with her family following her, with smoke and ruins and the smell of death all around.  She makes her way through the rubble, past the broken walls to the outside of the city.  And there, standing before her is the commander of the Lord’s army, with sword in hand.  He holds out his hand and says, “Welcome Rahab, to your new home.”

Rahab’s story doesn’t end in Joshua 2.  Rahab and her entire family became citizens of Israel.  She married a man from the tribe of Judah by the same of Salmon.  Salmon and Rahab had a child by the name of Boaz, who married another Gentile called Ruth.  Ruth became the mother of Obed, who become the father of Jesse, the father of David, the ancestor of Jesus, of the kingly line.  God saved Rahab, so that Jesus could come and save you.

I find that quite extraordinary, don’t you?  He chooses to work through the most ordinary and unlikely people – people like you and me.  He chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  He chooses what is low and despised in the world to bring to nothing things that are, so no human might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor. 1:27-29).  God loves to turn things upside-down, and he turns impossible situations into great victories.

The truth is my friends; we are all Rahab’s.  But God so loves Rahab’s that he sent His Son to die in their place, that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  Then He raises them up with Christ and seats them in the heavenly realms.

God transforms prostitutes into princes and princesses.  He makes them part of His own family.  Then he loves them as His very own.

Note: This post was based on a sermon I preached  in a series called “Ordinary Heroes”.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.

 

God’s Faithful Servant

It is estimated he preached the gospel to over 80 million people over his lifetime.  He spoke at over 400 crusades in 185 cities.  He served as spiritual adviser to over 10 American presidents.

He was admired and loved by both Christians and non-Christians; by those who love Jesus and those who have rejected Him.  His impact on the global church today is unparalleled.  Between 1950 and 1990 Graham won a spot on the Gallup Organization’s “Most Admired” list more often than any other American.  That’s an amazing legacy.

He was also a model of integrity. During his six decades of ministry, while many other Christian pastors and leaders fell to some scandal or sin, not one serious accusation of misconduct was ever levelled against him.

But his greatest impact was an eternal one.  Through his preaching ministry, that electrified audiences all over the world, countless people came to know and love Jesus Christ.

John Piper, in his tribute of Billy Graham said, “[His] greatest impact is the eternal difference he made in leading countless persons, from all over the world, out of destruction into everlasting joy and love.  This was his primary mission.”

Well done Billy Graham, God’s faithful servant.  You are now home.

Speaking out against Assisted Suicide

If you live in New Zealand, you will be well aware of another push to legalize euthanasia and assisted suicide, led by David Seymour, leader of the ACT Party.  The NZ Parliament has just voted the “End of Life Choice Bill” through its 1st Reading and it is now being considered by the Justice Select Committee.  A similar bill went before the Select Committee two years ago and the majority of New Zealanders opposed it, so that it never made any ground (see my post “Please New Zealand, don’t support assisted suicide” in January 2016, along with my submission against the bill).

Well here it is again, with a new twist.  This new bill involves a law change.  If passed, it would allow assisted suicide or euthanasia by deadly drugs for virtually any New Zealander 18 years or older, who has a disability, a longstanding or ageing-related condition, a mental illness, or even severe depression.

Family First recently published a very helpful and informative leaflet on the issue, which helped clarify a lot of things that were on my mind.

“Safe euthanasia is a myth. Euthanasia will remove the ‘choice’ of many vulnerable people, and fails the public safety test. Most disturbingly, promotion of assisted suicide is a message that will be heard not just by those with a terminal illness but also by anyone tempted to think he or she can no longer cope with their suffering – whatever the nature of that suffering. This is the real risk to young and to vulnerable people, the disabled and elderly people if NZ follows the path of promoting – and allowing – assisted suicide” — Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

To me it seems rather odd, and somewhat hypercritical for many of our country’s leaders and politicians to be making such a big issue about suicide (which is truly out of hand) and then, in the same breath, support assisted suicide for the weak and vulnerable.  Cannot people see this?

It is helpful in all of this, to have a clear understanding of what assisted suicide is and what it is not.  Have a look at this short video by Euthanasia-Free NZ – you’ll find it very helpful:

There are some clear warnings from other countries where a similar bill has been passed:

  • OREGAN:  In 2016, 48.9% of those who died under the Death with Dignity Act cited “burden on family, friends/caregivers” as a reason for accessing assisted suicide.
  • THE NETHERLANDS:  At least 23% of euthanasia deaths are not reported each year, despite reporting being required by law. In 2012, mobile euthanasia clinics began providing euthanasia to patients whose doctors had refused; by 2014, there were 39 of these clinics, again without recourse to Parliament for a change in the law.
  • BELGIUM:  In the region of Flanders, roughly 30% of all euthanasia deaths are non-voluntary; that’s roughly 1.8% of all deaths in the region.
  • CANADA:  Between June 2016 and June 2017, 1,982 people died under Canada’s Medical Aid in Dying (MAID) Law– 1,977 were euthanized, and 5 people committed assisted suicide.

Some may argue those stats are one-sided; there must be positives to this law change.  But even if these are one-sided, and given say – 10% margin of error, they are still very concerning.  Besides, I still personally struggle to see what “positive effects” such a law change may bring about.

As a Pastor, who has ministered to the elderly and dying for the past 24 years, I strongly oppose this law change.  As a family member, who has sat at my dying parent’s bedside, I oppose this bill.  As a citizen, who foresees massive problems where this could go in our nation, I oppose this bill.   And as a God-fearer, who will one day face his Creator and give an answer for how I stood (or did not stand) for truth and the sanctity of human life, I oppose this bill.

Here is the submission that I made to the Select Committee:

To the Justice Select Committee,

I am writing to oppose the End of Life Choice Bill.

Firstly, I oppose this bill for legal reasons. The bill, if passed, would require a major change to the Crimes Act – namely, that some people should be allowed to intentionally end the lives of other people. The ultimate choice and control will be with the system and its agents, not with the person who dies.

Secondly, I oppose this bill for social reasons. As a pastor, I devote a considerable amount of time caring for the elderly. Many of them struggle to get through each day as their health deteriorates; others suffer with debilitating disease. It pains me to see them in this condition. Yet I also see the love, care and support shown by family members, health professionals as well as people in my church and community. Such loving service is what makes communities truly human. It is right and good. What message are we sending to our children when, for the sake of convenience, the lives of the weak and suffering are simply terminated? I believe such a law would have a profound negative influence on our society.

Thirdly, I oppose this bill for ethical reasons. This bill, if passed, would violate one of the most important principles of our Judeo-Christian heritage (which was foundational to the forming of New Zealand society); namely, the sanctity of human life. EVERY life in this nation of our has inherent worth, able or disabled, healthy or sick.

Lastly, I oppose this bill for personal reasons. Several years ago, I sat at the beside of my dying mother, who was suffering terribly in the last stages of cancer. Her death was not sudden, but long and drawn out. The care given by the medical team at the hospice was exceptional. They monitored her pain levels constantly so that she was not in any discomfort. The drain on myself and my five siblings however, was noticeable. It meant time away from our jobs and family, loss of income and considerable emotional anguish. During this time, none of us were in a fit state to make rational decisions – particularly a decision on whether a person should live or die. We were simply coping. My concern, if such a bill was passed, is that individuals in a similar situation may act emotionally or reactively to end a loved one’s life, or the one suffering may feel pressured or coerced to request a premature death.

Some of the most precious time spent with my mother was during those final days. Hurts were healed, relationships were restored, and loving words were uttered. I believe every human being is put here on this earth by their Creator for a purpose. That purpose is not fully complete until their allotted days are over. We do not have the right, nor the wisdom or foresight, to aid in the ending on another individual’s life, whether they request it or not.

Respectfully yours,

Peter Somervell

Some helpful and informative websites:

You can make your own online submission here.