The Right to Die

 

Last Wednesday, a distinguished scientist bid farewell to his home in Australia to fly half way across the world to Switzerland, where it is legal to end your life.  He had no terminal illness nor was he suffering from any disease.  He’s just old – 104 years old, to be exact.  The tipping point for him was his diminishing independence.

“I’m not happy. I want to die. It’s not sad particularly. What is sad is if one is prevented.” – David Goodall

Prevented?  I found that interesting.  No one is preventing him from dying.  He will die; and most likely fairly soon.  Age will take him.  And if he is under medical care, he will die peacefully and comfortably.  So then, what’s the problem?  The problem is he wants to die when he says so.

It’s another example of mankind’s desire for personal autonomy, only to the extreme.  It is human rights pushed too far.  Most of us in the West are privileged to live in a democracy.  We all have certain rights –  irrespective of our age, ethnicity, culture, religion or sex.  But those rights only go so far.  We don’t have “rights” to do anything we want.  The law places limits on us.  And where the law doesn’t place limits, God does.  We don’t decide, for example, the day we are born.  Nor are we to decide the day we die.  Unless of course we override God’s plan and do what we want – which seems to be what is going on here.

This whole issue is receiving a lot of media attention in our country lately with the latest End of Life Choice Bill, which had it’s first reading in Parliament and is now being presented to the Justice Select Committee.  Currently, all forms of euthanasia including Voluntary Euthanasia (VE), Non-voluntary Euthanasia, Assisted Suicide and Physician Assisted Suicide (PAS) are illegal in New Zealand.  The administration of drugs with the intention to relieve pain however (even though the effect will result in the shortening of life), and the withdrawal of life-preserving medical treatment that is not accomplishing anything useful, is lawful.

The Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine (ANZSPM 2013) states:

“Treatment that is appropriately titrated (measured and adjusted) to relieve symptoms and has a secondary and unintended consequence of hastening death, is not euthanasia.”

Doctors and palliative care-givers administer heavy pain medication with the intent of relieving suffering.  They may foresee that same medication will eventually bring about an early death but that is not their primary intent.  There is a clear difference and our legal system recognizes the difference.

There are a number of sound, rational, and practical arguments against euthanasia.  One is the risk of abuse.  Those vulnerable to a law change include the poor, the elderly, the handicapped and disabled, the emotionally distraught and so on.  Along with this is the slippery slope argument, which states once society accepts one form of termination of human life with a given set of conditions, it will be difficult or impossible to confine VE to those conditions.  Another is the ‘right to die’ could soon become a ‘duty to die.’  The elderly and terminally ill may come to feel euthanasia would be the right thing to do as they do not want to be a burden to their family. In fact, according to a health report from the State of Oregon (where VE has been legalized), one in three patients requesting euthanasia reported that part of their motivation was because they felt a “burden on family and friends.”

The concern is a subtle coercion placed on the vulnerable to end their lives.  In the Netherlands, where VE has been legalized for over 30 years, if a patient does not want to be killed by their doctor, they must state it clearly orally and in writing, well in advance.  A change in law allowing people to ‘opt in’ for VE or PAS will eventually become so normalized that people will feel pressured not to ‘opt out.’

But there is a greater and more powerful case against euthanasia.  It has served as the basis for the moral and ethical code in our country since it’s foundation.  It is called the sanctity of human life, which states that all human life, in whatever state or condition, able or disable, is of intrinsic value and cannot be taken.

In Genesis chapter one, verses 26-27 we find this:

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.” So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.”

We are image bearers – made in the likeness of God. This includes the mentally impaired, the deformed, the diseased and the terminally ill. Each one, in some way, bears the image of God.

The bible gives us another reason we must not take human life: God alone has authority of life and death. Deuteronomy 32:39 states,

“See now that I alone am he; there is no God but me. I bring death and I give life; I wound and I heal. No one can rescue anyone from my power.” 

Psalm 139:6 says that God ordained every one of our days before even one of them began.  That means we cannot add or detract one second of our lives beyond what God has decided.

And as to the matter of suffering – the bible has something to say about that too.  Listen to what the Apostle Paul says in Romans 5:3-5

“And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. This hope will not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 

Suffering develops character.  Suffering reminds us of the temporal nature of this world and causes us to long for the new world to come.  Suffering teaches us about mercy and kindness and compassion.  In fact, the word ‘compassion’ literally means to “suffer with.”  True compassion is the willingness to suffer on behalf of others and helping them to bear their burdens.

It saddens me to see an individual like David Goodall, who has lived a long and healthy life and who is not suffering from any illness, wanting to take his own life.  If only he knew how valuable he was in the sight of God, that God knows him intimately since the day he was formed in his mother’s womb, and that Jesus has provided a way for him know and love God, have his sin forgiven and receive eternal life.

Perhaps that might have changed things for him.  For death would not be the end, but a doorway to a new beginning.

Note: This post was based on a sermon on Euthanasia from our “Hot Topics” series.  You can listen to the full audio on our website here.  You can also listen to the discussion forum that followed here.
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Restoring the Fallen

We all know how it feels when we disappoint someone – particularly someone we are close to.  It might be our spouse.  It might be a close friend.  It might even be our boss.  We’ve let that person down.  When they needed us, we didn’t come through.  And we hate ourselves for it.

That’s how Peter felt after failing Jesus.  He boasted that he would never desert Jesus; he would never let him down, and then he denies him three times.  He’s full of shame and guilt.  He’s no use to God or anyone else now – how could he be?  I can just imagine Peter doing what we all do in those situations.  He’s replaying the tape in his mind, over and over, frame by frame – why did I do it? why did I do it?

That’s where we find Peter when we come to John chapter 21.  He’s with a handful of other disciples by the Lake of Tiberias (also known as the Sea of Galilee).  Peter says, “I’m going fishing.”  The other disciples, say, “We’re coming with you.” 

So, you see what’s going on here.  Peter has failed Jesus – badly.  He’s no use to Jesus anymore.  There is one thing he can do however; he can fish.  But that night they catch nothing.  And the reason is because Jesus doesn’t let him catch anything.  Peter is running away.  He is running away, and Jesus is saying,

“You think you can do something without me Peter, but I want you to see you can do nothing without me.  Not even fish.”

Then at dawn, a shadowy figure is seen on the shore and it calls out, “Friends, you don’t have any fish, do you?”  Then the voice says, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat.”  You can imagine what these experienced fishermen are thinking: “Oh that’s just rich.  I like that.  Like, the fish know the difference between the left side and right side.”  John tells us in verse 6, “So they did, and they were unable to haul it in because of the large number of fish.” 

As they are hauling it in, the disciple whom Jesus loved (that’s code-name for John), puts two and two together and says to Peter, “It is the Lord!”  Peter, without hesitation, dives into the water.  He’s swimming to shore, and he can’t get there fast enough.  He wants to be with Jesus again, in spite of his shame and guilt.  He’s messed up, but he loves Jesus all the same.

When they all get to the shore they find there a charcoal fire, bread and fish.  It’s déjà vu for the disciples.  It’s all happened before.  It’s the same miracle Jesus performed when he first met Peter back in Luke chapter 5.  It’s the same crowd, the same Peter, the same lake, and the same figure on the shore asking how many fish they had caught.  And the same thing happens, except back then, the nets did tear.

What is Jesus doing?  He’s bringing it all back for them.  He’s recalling their memory.  He’s calling them back.  The bread and the fish, recalling the miraculous feeding of the 5000 and later, the 4000.  Jesus is saying, “Do you remember?  Do you remember that we did this together?  Do you recall what I did?”  Jesus has a special way of drawing his straying ones back to himself.  He stirs their memory and touches their conscience.

So there they all are, sitting there by the fire, eating breakfast together.  Then at some point I imagine, Jesus takes Peter on a little walk.  He says to him, “Simon son of John…”  Now you may remember earlier in the book, in chapter 1 verse 42, Jesus said to Peter, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated “Peter”). 

Jesus is taking him back. He is taking him back to the beginning – back to the place where they had begun in Galilee, so he uses the name with which they had begun.  You see, Jesus is willing to start over with Peter.

Then Jesus says to him in verse 15, “Do you love Me more than these?”  Now the question here is, what does the “these” refer to?  Is Jesus asking, “Do you love me more than these boats and fish?” or “Do you love me more than these men you are working with?”  I tend to lean toward the latter.  Remember Peter’s earlier boast: he vowed to stay faithful to Jesus even if all the others fell away.  The irony is, it is Peter who denies Jesus, not the others.  I think that Jesus may be asking,

“Do you really love me more than these other men love me?  You made that pledge Peter; did you really mean it?” 

Jesus asks this not just once, not twice, but three times.  On the third time, Peter is grieved (recalling no doubt, his 3-fold denial).

I have a wonderful little book on my shelf called, The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes.  In it he unpacks Isaiah 42:3 where it says (in speaking of Christ), “A bruised reed he will not break and a smouldering wick he will not put out.”  You know what a reed is.  A reed is thin and frail and fragile.  If the wind blows too hard on a reed it often breaks.  Sibbes writes,

“God’s children are bruised reeds, before their conversion and many times after. For usually God empties men of themselves and makes them nothing before He will use them in any great service.”

A little further on Sibbes writes,

“As a mother is tenderest to her most diseased child, to her weakest child, so does Christ. Christ most mercifully inclines to the weakest and His way is first to wound and then to heal. And we see that there is more mercy in Christ than there is sin in us.”

Jesus is tending to a bruised reed.  He is restoring a wounded conscience.  But the way you restore a wounded or guilty conscience is not put a band-aid on it.  You have to do heart surgery.  You need to open the wound.  It’s painful.  And that’s exactly what we see happening here.  Jesus is doing surgery on Peter’s conscience.  And it nearly brings him to tears.

Following Jesus’ 3-fold probing of Peter’s love for him is a 3-fold commission to service:

  • “Feed (basko) my lambs” (v.15)
  • “Shepherd (poimaino) my sheep” (v.16)
  • “Feed (basko) my sheep” (v.17)

This was Jesus’ call to Peter from the beginning.  He’s putting him right back into service.  He not only restoring Peter, he is reinstating him.  He’s saying,

“These sheep Peter, they are mine.  I bought them.  I died for them.  Now I want you to look after them.  Feed them.  Lead them.  Protect them.  Care for them.  And the lambs Peter, my little ones; the ones that are weak and vulnerable and prone to wander.  I’m putting them into your hands.  Look after them.”

And what would be the one thing that would hold Peter to this, that would keep him faithful?  Love for Christ.  You can see it now, can’t you.  You can see how all this fits together.  You can see what makes a good pastor – or any Christian leader for that matter, one who will give the sheep what they need, not what they want, who will faithfully feed them the Word of God and protect them from error and lay down his own life for them if necessary:

It’s not love for the flock.  It’s love for the Shepherd.  It’s love for Jesus.

I’ll leave you with two points of application:

Firstly: no matter what you have done, no matter where you have been, you can start anew; you can start afresh.  What Peter encounters in John 21 is a Saviour who is always eager and always waiting to start over.  There’s new grace.  There’s fresh mercy.

Secondly: What if you are a great failure and you are a great sinner and you can’t say with Peter, “Yes, Lord, I love you,” either because you don’t know Christ or because you do know Him but you feel like such a mixed bag?  Sometimes you love Him; sometimes you don’t love Him.  What do you do with that?  Where do you go?  You can’t cultivate it or create it or manufacture this love on your own.  If you don’t have a love for Jesus, where do you get it?

Here’s the answer.  The answer is very simple.  God gives you that love, when you completely surrender yourself to him.   The good news of the gospel is Christ grants his righteousness to us as a gift.  Salvation is by grace – free, unmerited, undeserved grace.  And God grants that grace to those who fall before him in worship and absolute surrender.  Don’t try to start acting better.  Don’t say to yourself, “I’m going to be a better person.”  Open your heart and allow Jesus to come in and change and transform you.  He will give you what you need.  All he asks is for you to trust him.

Pray, “God, change my heart and make me new,” and then hang on and see how His grace upon grace will burst into your life.

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.

 

 

 

Dealing with Doubt

DOUBT.  Every person has struggled with it at some time or another, whether they be an atheist, agnostic or religious.  The atheist questions, “What if I’m wrong and there really is a God?”  The Christian questions, “What if I’m wrong and Christianity is not true?”  The agnostic (who maintains that no one can know whether God exists or not) lives in a perpetual state of doubt.

Now you might be one of those individuals who has never doubted God’s existence or doubted that you are truly saved.  Good for you.  But you may have doubted other things such as election and free will or whether God listens to your prayers.  Or perhaps, during a particularly difficult season in your life you have doubted God’s goodness.

That brings us to one of the most famous doubters in the bible: Thomas.  His story is told in John chapter 20.  Jesus has risen from the dead and appeared to a number of his followers.  The only one not to have seen him is Thomas.  When they tell him about it, he just won’t buy it.  Maybe he thinks they have imagined it or they saw someone who looked just like Jesus.  What ever his reasons, he’s not swallowing any of it.  Finally, in exasperation he says,

“If I don’t see the mark of the nails in his hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (John 20:25)

Now it is very easy from the vantage point we have, to rag on this guy for his scepticism and unbelief.  But we need to be careful that we don’t sell Thomas short.  There are two other places in John’s gospel where Thomas appears.  And what we learn about him may just surprise you.

Scene 1: John 11

Jesus is out beyond the Jordan River with His disciples – preaching and baptizing.  He then gets word that his friend Lazarus is sick – very sick.  After two days Jesus says, “Let’s go to Judea.”  Well the disciples aren’t too keen on this because the last time Jesus was there the Jews had tried to stone Him.  Jesus says, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I’m on my way to wake him up.”  They reply, “That’s great, if he’s asleep, he’s going to get well.”  Jesus replies (in a manner of words), “No you idiots, he’s dead.  He’s meant to die so you can see the power of God at work.  So, let’s go to him.”  Thomas, in response to this says, “Let’s go too so that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16)

Ok, so the disciples really don’t get it.  But what I want you to see here is Thomas’ devotion to Jesus.  He thinks that Jesus is going to join Lazarus in death.  And he is willing to go and risk his life and follow him.  He even challenges the others to come along.  So that’s our first portrait of Thomas: devoted, committed and willing to follow Jesus to death.

Scene 2: John 14

Jesus has just told the disciples that He’s leaving them.  He is returning to his Father.  Jesus says, “You know the way where I’m going” (verse 4).  Thomas asks, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going, how do we know the way?”  That’s the question everyone else is thinking but don’t want to ask in case they look stupid.  Thomas takes the initiative.  He doesn’t mind asking the hard questions.  He’s not afraid to speak up.  That’s the Thomas we’re looking at here – devoted, committed, and unafraid to speak up and ask the hard questions.

The fact that Thomas has serious doubts that Jesus has come back to life – physically and bodily, doesn’t change any of that.  It doesn’t make him a failure.  It doesn’t mean he is spiritually weak, just like you having doubts about something doesn’t make you spiritually weak.

A week goes by, and the disciples are together again, behind locked doors.  Jesus appears to the disciples the same way he had before, out of nowhere.  This time Thomas is there.  Can you imagine his expression, when he sees Jesus with his own eyes?  Jesus heads straight to Thomas and says to him,

“Put your finger here and look at my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Don’t be faithless, but believe.” (John 20:27)

This is how Jesus often deals with our ignorance and our stubbornness isn’t it?  He’s gentle and accommodating.  He knows our faults; He knows what we are made of; and whatever the doubts, whatever the uncertainty Jesus accepts it, and meets us in the middle of it.  Our Saviour is big-hearted.  He loves Thomas and he wants to see him come to a fullness of faith and belief.  “Thomas, come now; don’t come unbelievingly. Come with faith; come with trust to Me.”

Take heart Christian, if this big-hearted Saviour was patient with Thomas, then he’ll be patient with us too.  He says to us,

“Come to Me.  Come with your questions.  Come to Me with your doubts. Come to me with your concerns.  Come to me even with your demands, and I will be able to answer all of them.”

There’s a wonderful verse in a hymn written by William Bright,

How oft, O Lord, Thy face hath shone
On doubting souls whose wills were true!
Thou Christ of Cephas and of John,
Thou art the Christ of Thomas, too.

Thomas’ response is just wonderful.  He says, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Thomas declares that Jesus is the God.  To look into the face of Jesus is to look into the face of God – the Almighty – the one true God.  For Thomas – there’s no doubt.  Only belief.  God has come to Him.  Whatever doubts he may have had Jesus has responded to them.  God’s truth has been revealed.  He sees now with his own eyes: Jesus is the risen Lord – victorious over sin and death.  Jesus responds in verse 29,

“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)

What an astounding statement from our Lord here.  He is looking forward, past Thomas, past the disciples to those who will believe Him in the future.  He is saying, “How blessed will be those not because they have seen me, not because they have prodded and touched me, but because they trust in the infallible, inerrant Word of God.  How blessed will be those people!”

Conclusion

And so, bringing all this to a close, it is not wrong or sinful for you to doubt.  The question is, what will you do with your doubt?  Will you push forward to faith or will you slip backwards to unbelief?  Because you can’t stay where you are.  To linger in doubt is dangerous.

Faith is sometimes difficult.  I’m the first to admit it.  It’s not always easy.  And for faith to be genuine, it will always have questions and doubts accompanying it, otherwise it isn’t real faith.

It’s not always an easy road to walk – Jesus never promised us that.  But he does promise to be with us in the middle of it.  He will meet us in our doubts.  And when he comes, he won’t come to scold, he won’t come to rebuke, but to gently and patiently work with us so that we progress through to faith.

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.

 

 

When you don’t desire God

Every Christian has experienced it at one time or another.  Your heart feels cold, you have no desire to pray and you feel very distant from God.  You know it’s not good.  You know you should do something about it.  But you lack the will and motivation to do so.  You open your bible, looking and hoping for some spiritual light – some new truth to stimulate the mind and warm the affections, but nothing comes.  You put on some worship music, hoping that might change things.  But alas, it doesn’t.

Now there might be a number of causes for this malady: doubt, discouragement,  unconfessed sin, over-tiredness, or an attack from the enemy (who will do anything he can to keep you from seeking God).  Sometimes we just don’t know what the cause is.  It just IS.  The answer however, isn’t to try to get ourselves in a spiritually fit state to get back in touch with God.  That will never happen.  God is the only one who can get us back in touch with God.  Spiritual work can never be attained by human or fleshly means.  We should know that (if our theology is right).  But we forget.

So when I woke up the other morning and found myself struggling to pray, I knew the answer was not going to be found in myself, but in God.  I got down on my knees and went to a Psalm I frequently visit – Psalm 62.  The middle section goes like this:

Rest in God alone, my soul,
for my hope comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my stronghold; I will not be shaken.
My salvation and glory depend on God, my strong rock.
My refuge is in God.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts before him.
God is our refuge.                               Selah

I don’t think we need to spend a lot of time explaining what it means to pour out your heart.

Commentators often use the example of Hannah pouring out her heart to God in 1 Samuel 1:13-15.  The word used there is the Hebrew debar, which simply means to speak your heart.  But that’s not the same word David uses here.  He uses the word shapak, used to describe the pouring of water from a cup, the pouring of blood over the altar or the melting of wax to pour into a mould.  A possible translation then of Psalm 62:8 could be, “melt and pour out your heart to God.”  That puts a slightly different spin on it.

But it still doesn’t help us in our cold, indifferent state.  How do you melt a cold heart?  You ask God for help.  God is not unaware of our condition, for “he knows what we are made of, remembering that we are dust” (Psalm 103:14).  He knows us.  He is aware.  And he cares and is willing to help.

So I ask God to soften my heart and quicken my spirit and create a hunger and thirst for him.  I plead earnestly for this, explaining to him that if he doesn’t, I will remain indifferent and cold and my prayers will be ineffective.  I continue to plead and entreat and beg God in this matter until he answers.  He always does.  He is a gracious and kind Saviour.  He always comes to the aid of those who call upon him, especially in cases such as this.  He will not leave us bereft and abandoned.  He will meet you in your cold-heartedness and bring refreshment to your soul.  Frosted hearts melt in His presence.  Trust him for it.

I’ll leave you with some words from Spurgeon, who puts it in a way that only Spurgeon can:

Ye people, pour out your heart before him. Ye to whom his love is revealed, reveal yourselves to him. His heart is set on you, lay bare your hearts to him. Turn the vessel of your soul upside down in his secret presence, and let your inmost thoughts, desires, sorrows, and sins be poured out like water. Hide nothing from him, for you can hide nothing. To the Lord unburden your soul; let him be your only father confessor, for he only can absolve you when he has heard your confession. To keep our griefs to ourselves is to hoard up wretchedness. The stream will swell and rage if you dam it up: give it a clear course, and it leaps along and creates no alarm. Sympathy we need, and if we unload our hearts at Jesus’ feet, we shall obtain a sympathy as practical as it is sincere, as consolatory as it is ennobling.

 God is a refuge for us. Whatever he may be to others, his own people have a peculiar heritage in him; for us he is undoubtedly a refuge: here then is the best of reasons for resorting to him whenever sorrows weigh upon our bosoms. Prayer is peculiarly the duty of those to whom the Lord has specially revealed himself as their defence.

Some other resources that might be of help to you:

 

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.

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.

 

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.