Mistakes aren’t always mistakes. In 1886 a pharmacist by the name of John Pemberton was cooking medicinal syrup in a large brass kettle slung over a fire, stirring it with an oar. But his syrup didn’t catch on as a medicine, so he tried mixing it with water as a beverage. He spent $73.96 promoting his new drink the first year, but sold only $50 worth of the product. Today people drink one billion products a day from the Coca-Cola Company. In 1968, a 3-M researcher tried to improve adhesive tape, but made a glue which was only semi-sticky. Four years later one of his colleagues, a member of his church choir, was frustrated that bookmarks kept falling out of his hymnal and music in the choir loft. He used the semi-sticky glue his friend had created to invent the Post-It Notes. Mistakes sometimes aren’t. What do you do when they are? When temptation won’t leave you alone? When problems get worse rather than better? When you’re fighting sin and Satan, discouragement and frustration, with no victory in sight? When you can’t find a way to make syrup into Coke or failed glue into Post-It profits?
A mausoleum’s crystal casket in Red Square contains the body of Vladimir Lenin. The inscription reads: "he was the greatest leader of all people of all time. He was the lord of the new humanity; he was the savior of the world." Note the past tense.
By contrast, Alice Meynell once observed:
No planet knows that this Our wayward planet, carrying land and wave,
Love and life multiplied, and pain and bliss, Bears, as chief treasure, one forsaken grave.
Jesus’ cross is empty; his tomb is empty.
Without citing the New Testament, we know these facts:
In AD 52, Thallus the Samaritan described the darkness of Jesus’ crucifixion; so we know he died on the cross as the Scriptures say.
Tacitus (died AD 120), the greatest Roman historian, states that Jesus died at the hands of Pontius Pilate, as the New Testament says.
Suetonius (died AD 135) writes of the Christians’ faith in Jesus.
In AD 112 the Roman administrator Pliny the Younger described the fact that Christians "sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ as to a god."
We have letters, books, and fragments from Christian writers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Quadratus, Justin the Martyr) dating to the first century, unanimously teaching that Jesus Christ was and is the risen Lord, the Son of God.
The hypothesis that Jesus was a man deified by Constantine in AD 325 is historically preposterous. Every evidence and source is to the contrary. Everything we know from ancient records tells us that Jesus Christ was believed by Christians to be their risen and living Lord. As he is today.
When we believe that he is alive and real, that he is empowering and rewarding us, everything changes. Martin Rinkart buried 4,000 people in his city during the Thirty Years War, including several members of his family. That was the year he wrote the hymn, "Now Thank We All Our God."
Terry Anderson, the Christian journalist taken hostage in Lebanon for seven years, wrote of his experience: "We come closest to God at our lowest moments. It’s easiest to hear God when you are stripped of pride and arrogance, when you have nothing to rely on except God. It’s pretty painful to get to that point, but when you do, God’s there."
C. S. Lewis asserted, "The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God is in the Dock" (God in the Dock 244).
How long has it been since you submitted your plans and your future to God as your King? How long has it been since you have experienced true satisfaction and joy in your life and faith? It’s the same question. He is God and we are not. The holy Lord of the universe will not be our servant. He will not stand in our dock. But he will reward his servants with fulfillment and joy we can find nowhere else. The choice is ours. Monday night, if the weather is clear we’ll be able to see five planets in the evening sky at once: Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. Lurking far beyond them is another astronomical body whose discovery was reported just this week, a mysterious object beyond Pluto now being called "Sedna." It sounds like a sugar substitute, but it’s actually a reddish chunk of rock almost the size of Pluto which circles the sun once every 10,500 years. It’s three times further from the sun than Pluto. But it’s still part of our solar system, which is itself admittedly tiny in comparison to our galaxy and infinitesimally tiny in comparison to universe. And all of that was created by God. The God some treat as their servant. The God others serve.
President Theodore Roosevelt and his good friend, the naturalist William Beebe, would on occasion stay at Roosevelt’s family home. They would go out on its lawn at night. They would search the skies until they found the faint spot of light behind the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus. Then they would remember together the words:
That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way.
It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, Each larger than our sun. Then President Roosevelt would grin at Mr. Beebe and say, "Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed." Are we small enough to serve God?
Do you remember a few weeks ago the Caves Beach young diver, Luke Tresoglavic? This man walked into a lifeguard post at Caves beach looking for help with the small shark attached to his leg. Mr. Tresoglavic was snorkeling on a reef when the shark attacked him. He swam 1,000 feet to shore, but the shark wouldn’t let go. Some people on the beach tried to help, but to no avail. So the man got into his car, drove to the clubhouse, and asked for help. The lifeguards flushed the shark’s gills with fresh water. It then loosened its grip, and blood oozed from 70 punctures in the man’s leg. Mr. Tresoglavic was treated at a hospital. The shark later died. Now it’s safe to go back into the water. What’s hanging onto your heart this morning, refusing to let go? What is the secret or shame which lives in your past, the guilt that haunts your thoughts, the skeletons in your soul? Where’s the lifeguard who can set you free?
As the first image of The Passion of the Christ quotes, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6).
Note his own answer to the question: "How then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?" (Matthew 26:54). He repeated himself: "All this has taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled" (v. 56). "Scriptures," plural; "writings," plural.
What did he mean? Listen to the plan which he and his Father created.
How would he be betrayed? "Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me" (Psalm 41:9).
For how much? "They paid me thirty pieces of silver" (Zechariah 11:12).
How would his followers react? "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered" (Zech 13:7).
Who would accuse him? "Ruthless witnesses come forward…They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn" (Psalm 35:11-12).
How would he respond? "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth" (Isa 53:7).
What would happen next?
How would he suffer? "I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard" (Isaiah 50:6a).
How would he die?" They will look on me, the one they have pierced" (Zechariah 12:10).
How would the crowd react? "I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting" (Isaiah 50:6b).
With whom would he die? "He poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors" (Isaiah 53:12).
How would these criminals respond? "They hurl insults, shaking their heads; ‘He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him’" (Psalm 22:7-8).
At his death:
He would suffer thirst: "They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst" (Psalm 69:21).
His bones would not be broken: "I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me" Ps 22:17
They would gamble for his robe: "They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing" (Psalm 22:18).
He would cry to the Lord, ""My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1).
At the end he would pray, "Into your hands I commit my spirit" (Psalm 31:5).
Why did Jesus die? To fulfill the plan of his Father as "the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world" (Revelation 13:8). Because this was their strategy before time began, before the first human was created, before the first sin was committed.
You may know that Mel Gibson, the director and producer of The Passion of The Christ, appears in the movie himself. When Jesus’ hand is stretched on the cross, a fist holds the spike which is driven into the Savior’s flesh. The hand which holds that spike, the hand which crucifies the Lord, is Mel Gibson’s. He was asked why he did it that way. His answer: because I killed him. We all did. I understand and appreciate what he means. But we can’t kill Christ. He chose to die, for you. Before he made you, he knew he would die for you. That’s how much he loves you. The passion of the Christ is you.
The following came from an anonymous mother in Austin, Texas. She titles the list, "Things I’ve learned from my children (honest and no kidding):"
· A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house four inches deep.
· You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way. The glass in windows (even double-pane) does not stop a baseball hit by a ceiling fan.
· When you hear the toilet flush and the words "uh oh," it’s already too late.
· Super glue is forever.
· The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy. It will, however, make cats dizzy. Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.
· Always look in the oven before you turn it on. Plastic toys do not like ovens. The fire department in Austin, Texas has a five-minute response time.
Look at your existence. To spell "collagen," the name of a common type of protein, you need to arrange all eight letters in the right order. To make the protein itself, you need to arrange 1,055 amino acids in precisely the right sequence. This happens spontaneously in nature. Yet the odds are one in 10×260, a number larger than all the atoms in the universe (Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, 288). And that’s just one protein in your genetic makeup.
A friend recently sent me some ads which needed proofreading:
Nice parachute. Never opened. Used once.
Nordic Track $300. Hardly used. Call Chubby.
Semi-Annual after-Christmas Sale.
Snowblower for sale. Only used on snowy days.
Stock up and save. Limit one.
Wanted: Man to take care of cow that does not smoke or drink.
Dog for sale: Eats anything and is fond of children.
For sale by owner: complete set of Encyclopedia Britannica 45 volumes. Excellent condition. $1,000 or best offer. No longer needed. Got married last month. Wife knows everything.
Does she really? Does she know the meaning of life? Does she know what really matters? Do any of us? "Affluenza" is the new term of the day—affluence which afflicts us with its demands, overwork and overstress.
I read this week that 80% of men and 62% of women put in more than 40 hours a week on the job. But all this work is not giving our lives meaning and fulfillment. 60% of Americans feel pressured to work too much; 80% wish for more time to be with their families and themselves.
We’re starting to realize that it’s just not worth it. We’ve climbed to the top of the ladder, only to discover that it’s leaning against the wrong wall. Then the hard times come. How do you go on in the face of chemotherapy, job loss, single parenting, the divorce of your parents, peer pressure at school, demands which are pulling you apart, the general weariness of life?
It all comes to purpose. You and I will choose to go on in the face of suffering and sacrifice if the goal is worth such cost. When we find the right purpose, a meaning to life which is worth our lives, we’ll pay any price to fulfill it. There, in that purpose, we’ll find the courage to go on.
A great violinist was due in a particular city. The newspaper reports written in advance of his concert, however, devoted most of their attention to the original Strativarius violin he would play. The morning of the concert, the local paper even carried a picture of the great instrument. That night the concert hall filled with people, and the musician played at his best. When he concluded, applause thundered. Then the violinist raised his instrument over his head, and smashed it across his chair. It splintered into a thousand pieces. The audience gasped in shock. The violinist explained: "I read in this morning’s paper how great my violin was. So I walked down the street and found a pawn shop. For ten dollars I bought this violin. I put some new strings on it, and used it this evening. I wanted to demonstrate to you that it’s not the violin that counts most. It’s the hands that hold the violin." No matter how smashed your violin may be, the hands that hold it count most. Hold onto those hands, for they are holding onto you.
A man who felt constantly dominated by his wife went to see a psychologist, who gave him a book on assertiveness. He read it and then drove home, pointed his finger at his wife, and said, "I want you to know that from now on, I’m in charge around here. First you’re going to cook me a delicious dinner. Then you’re going to make me a sumptuous dessert. Then you’ll draw my bath so I can relax. Then, guess who’s going to lay out my clothes and comb my hair?" She replied, "The mortician?"
Erich Fromm, the eminent counselor, once wrote: "The deepest need of man …is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness…. Modern man is alienated from himself, from his fellow men, and from nature. He has been transformed into a commodity, experiences his life forces as an investment which must bring him the maximum profit obtainable under existing market conditions…. While everybody tries to be as close as possible to the rest, everybody remains utterly alone, pervaded by the deep sense of insecurity, anxiety and guilt which always results when human separateness cannot be overcome…. Man overcomes his conscious despair by the routine of amusement, the passive consumption of sounds and sights offered by the amusement industry; furthermore by the satisfaction of buying ever new things, and soon exchanging them for others." Fromm wrote those words in 1967, before the Vietnam War came to its bitter end; before Watergate; before September 11. Today sociologists describe our society as "cocooned," withdrawn into ourselves more than ever before in human history. Gone is the front porch—no one even builds them on houses anymore. Gone is the evening stroll with the neighbors. Gone are extended families—most are scattered across the country and beyond. In their place, 25% of the populace experiences acute loneliness at any given time, and nearly all of us face it with regularity.
A nurse writes: "It was a busy morning when an elderly gentleman arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He told me he was in a hurry, as he had an appointment at 9 a.m.. While taking care of his wound, I asked him if he had a doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. He told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife.
"I then asked about her health. He told me that she had been there for a while, and was an Alzheimer’s patient. As I finished dressing his wound, I asked if she would be worried if he was a bit late. He replied that she had not recognized him in five years. "I was surprised and said, ‘And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?’ He smiled, patted my hand, and said, ‘She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.’ I had to hold back tears as he left and I thought, ‘That is the kind of love I want in my life.’"
There are two ways to see life. Shakespeare’s Macbeth represents one:
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time, And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing (Macbeth, Act 5, scene 5).
Many people in our culture agree: life is chaos, with no meaning beyond what you can make of it today. If that’s true, if the God who made us is such an "idiot," then we’d best not trust our lives to his plans. He may well ask what we cannot do or don’t want to do. Ask him to save your soul from hell, but don’t trust him to guide your life or year. Before you choose that view of life, remember that this God sent his Son to die in your place, on your cross. Remember: you are his child; he did not bring you this far to leave you; his gifts are all you need to fulfill his purpose; his Spirit will not let you fail; he has a plan to prosper you and not harm you, to give you hope and a future. Don’t be afraid to trust your plans and hopes, your family and future, your dreams and goals to this God. Be afraid not to.
William Barclay once wrote, "A man will never become outstandingly good at anything unless that
thing is his ruling passion. There must be something of which he can say, ‘For me to live is this.’
Remember how powerfully Edgar Guest put it in his poem entitled Sermons We See…
“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely show the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear;
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear.
And the best of all the preachers Are those who live their creeds;
For to see the good in action Is what everybody needs.
I can soon learn how to do it if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run;
And the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true;
But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do.
For I may misunderstand you and the high advice you give;
But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.”
In the famous St. Martins-of-the-Fields Church in London there is a wonderful description of Christian morality which reads like this: “A Christian is a mind through which Christ thinks; a heart through which Christ loves; a voice through which Christ speaks; a hand through which Christ helps.” Paul put it like this… “Not I but Christ lives in me…”
Winter Olympics of 2006. It was one of the most memorable moments in Olympic history,… but it was not the memory that Lindsey Jacobellis had dreamed of, hoped for and wanted. She was way ahead in the snow-board cross finals… so far ahead that some say she could have crawled across the finish line and won the Gold Medal. But, she got carried away… caught up in the excitement of winning the big event… and in her youthful enthusiasm decided to “hot dog” a bit on the next to last jump… to show off a bit… just a little to excite the fans… and her plan backfired! As she landed awkwardly, she lost her balance and fell down and skidded off the course. By the time she recovered and got back up, … the competitor way behind her, Tanja Friedman of Switzerland caught up, passed her by and won the Gold… the first Gold Medal in that event in Olympic history. In frustration and disbelief, Lindsey Jacobellis scrambled across the finish line, and finished second and won the Silver Medal. As I watched that, my heart went out to Lindsey. If I could talk to her today, I would say to her: “Lindsey, you made the Olympic Team. You competed
against the best in the world. You represented the USA very well. You won the Silver Medal… and I am so proud of you!” That’s what I would say to her,… but the hard reality is… that Lindsey Jacobellis will always be remembered, not as the one who won the Silver Medal but as the one who lost the Gold! She was so near the Gold Medal. She was so near becoming an Olympic Champion. She was so near, but yet so far.
Rudyard Kipling spoke of this once. He said: “The world will tell you to be greatly concerned about money, position, or glory, but then someday you will meet a person who cares for none of these things. Then you will know how poor you are.”
In the movie Field of Dreams, a touching parable is told about life and death and reconciliation and forgiveness. Kevin Costner, the main character is driven to find an old doctor played by Burt Lancaster. The doctor (many years before as a young man) had been a professional baseball player. He had made it to the major leagues,… but he had only gotten in the game for one play before his career ended. He didn’t even get a chance to bat. The rest of his life was spent as a small town doctor whose love and caring were legendary. In the movie, the old doctor is offered a chance to return, magically, to his youth and to re-enter the big leagues to become the major league baseball star his talent had promised. It was a chance at fame and power and wealth. But the old doctor smiled and declined. “But you only get to play 5 minutes in the big leagues,” he is told “that’s a tragedy!” “No,” he replies, “If I had only gotten to be a doctor for 5 minutes, that would have been a tragedy!” (Pulpit Digest, Sept., Oct.1991, p.38 quoting Clyde Fant)
Some years ago, Albert Schweitzer put it like this. Speaking to a graduating class in an English School he said: “I do not know what your destiny will be. Some of you will perhaps occupy remarkable positions… but I do know one thing: the only ones among you who will be really happy… are those who have sought and found how to serve Christ.”
Norman Vincent Peale said several years ago in a funeral sermon for a friend. He said: “Now, a baby not yet born, still tucked under his mother’s heart, might say to himself: ‘This is a wonderful place. It’s warm. I’m fed. I’m taken care of. I’m secure. This is a great world where I am now. I like it here.’ And then someone might say to him: ‘But you’re not going to stay here. You have to move on. You’re going to die out of this place. You’re going to another world.’ The baby would look upon the process of birth as if it were death, since it would be the end of the pleasant state he was in.
But look what happens to him! He is cradled in loving arms. Soft hands hold him gently. A kind face looks down at him, and he loves that face. Everybody that comes near loves him. He’s the king of the world he surveys and he comes to love that world, too. It’s even better than the one in which he had been before. Finally, he gets to be an old man and he is told: ‘You have to die to this world.’ He protests: ‘I don’t want to die. I love this world. I like the feel of the sun on my face and the cool rain. I love the faces of my wife and children. I’ve lived here a long time and I love this place. I don’t want to die.’ But he does die to this world and then he is born into the next. And look what happens! He awakens to find himself young again. And once again, there are loving faces to greet him and loving hands to touch him. And even more beautiful sunlight will be there to surround him and sweeter music than he’s ever heard in his life before will sound in his ears. And all tears will be wiped from his eyes and he will say: ‘Why was I so afraid of this thing called death, when (as I now know) it is really life instead?’”
At a Rodeo two rough, tough-looking cowboys sitting backstage waiting to ride angry bulls and bucking broncos as rodeo competitors. They were sitting together, sipping coffee and talking about life on the rodeo circuit. They were also telling each other about their rodeo-related injuries… a busted knee, a sprained ankle, a broken rib. Just then, a young man walked by sporting… • Brand new cowboy boots; • A new pair of Levis; • A wide belt with a huge belt buckle; • A freshly starched cowboy shirt; • … and a big white cowboy hat. He was all dressed up for a night at the Rodeo… but you could tell that he had probably never been on a horse in his life. He was all decked out in brand-new western garb and doing his best imitation of the John Wayne walk. As he strutted by, one of the rodeo cowboys smiled,.. nudged his buddy and said: “Big Hat, No Cattle.” What did he mean by that? He probably meant that some people like to dress the part, but not pay the price. We will dress up like a cowboy for a night or two, but we have no idea what is really involved or demanded… in the real “hard-knocks life” of a committed cowboy. “Big Hat, No Cattle!”