On May 26, 2013 at 4:30 am the Jascon 4, one of three tugboats towing an oil freighter off the coast of Nigeria, started to sink. Harrison Odjegba Okene, the tugboat's 29-year-old cook, immediately knew something was wrong. As the vessel descended 100 feet to the floor of the Atlantic Ocean pitched upside down, Okene was tossed to and fro in his small quarters. He groped his way in the pitch darkness through the icy waters, finally finding a cabin with a four foot air pocket. He made a make-shift platform and stacked two mattresses together in his attempt to escape the rising water.
Dressed only in his boxer shorts, Okene sat on the mattresses and waited for help. But the thought of being rescued seemed remote. So Okene, a follower of Jesus, started to pray the Psalms: "Oh, God, by your name, save me," and "The Lord sustains my life." Okene told reporters, "I started calling on the name of God …. reminiscing on the verses I read before I slept. I read the Bible from Psalms 54 to 92. My wife had sent me the verses to read that night when she called me before I went to bed."
Two-and-a-half days later, Okene was certain the rest of the eleven man crew had drowned and that he would also drown. Then he heard the sound of rescuers and started banging on the steel walls of his cabin with a hammer. The Dutch divers who found him couldn't believe their eyes. As they reached out for a hand of a man they assumed was dead, the hand grabbed theirs.
To this day, Okene believes his rescue after 72 hours underwater was the result of divine deliverance. He told a Nigerian newspaper, "The rest of my life is not enough to thank God for this wonder. It is incredible."
Do we believe that God can work similar miracles in our and other people’s lives? Do we truly believe? Or, do we surrender to what appears to be the inevitable? If you know of a marriage that is struggling, pray. If a loved one is seriously ill, pray. If finances are stretched, pray. If ministries are struggling, pray. If hearts are hardened toward Jesus, pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. Jeremiah 32:27 encourages us: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind, Is anything too difficult for me?”
Keep the faith,
A segment on CNN from March of this year identifies the most common question from visitors to Brooklyn Museum's Egyptian art galleries: Why are the statues’ noses broken?
Edward Bleiberg, who oversees the museum's Egyptian art, was surprised the first few times he heard this question. He had taken for granted that the sculptures were simply damaged. Certainly, after thousands of years, an ancient artifact should show wear and tear. But the broken noses led Bleiberg to uncover a widespread pattern of deliberate destruction. He said, “The consistency of the patterns … of damage found in sculpture suggests that it's purposeful.” A protruding nose on a three-dimensional statue is easily broken, he conceded, but the plot thickens when flat reliefs also have smashed noses.
The ancient Egyptians believed that the essence of a deity could inhabit an image of that deity. These campaigns of vandalism were therefore intended to "deactivate an image's strength." The damaged part of the body is no longer able to do its job. Without a nose, the statue-spirit ceases to breathe, so that the vandal is effectively "killing" it. To hammer the ears off a statue of a god would make it unable to hear a prayer. Pharaohs regularly issued decrees with terrible punishments for anyone who would dare threaten their likeness.
Bleiberg noted the skill evidenced by the iconoclasts. They were not vandals recklessly and randomly striking out at works of art. In fact, the targeted precision of their chisels suggests that they were skilled laborers, trained and hired for this exact purpose.
The idols we pursue are obviously different today than in ancient times. Our idols might be career, fitness, adventure, personal pursuits, weekend getaways, home, cars, SUVs…. Of course, none of these are inherently wrong/bad in and of themselves. They become idols when we pursue them at the expense of pursuing God. Though they may provide a short-term, fun distraction, they are powerless to give us what we ultimately desire and hope for. Their noses have been broken. Only in pursuing God can we find true meaning, purpose and peace.
Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
See you Sunday morning!
Keep the faith,
In the last 100 years, advances in medicine have added two years to the average life expectancy every decade. But apparently, for many people, this is not enough. There are attempts to accelerate life expectancy especially among the rich and powerful. Here is what some of the world’s wealthiest have pursued:
The truth is that no amount of money or technology can cure death. It is inevitable. Scripture tells us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And, the wages of sin is death. However, the gift of God is eternal life through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Jesus’ death and resurrection assures us of this. Of course, this is the good news of Easter Sunday. God raised Jesus from the dead, conquering death in the process. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Eternal life through faith in Jesus does not cost a single dollar. Have you made that faith commitment?
In 2016 Hannah Peterson was involved in a serious car accident just one month before her wedding in Ontario. She broke her pelvis in three places, punctured a kidney, broke some ribs, and suffered a concussion and partial hearing loss during the July 18 collision.
Despite being confined to a wheelchair, Hannah was determined not to let the accident affect her big day on August 25. So when it came time to walk down the aisle, Hannah's father wheeled her part of the way down, and then her fiancé, Stuart, tenderly carried her in his arms the rest of the way.
Hannah, 23, who along with her now-husband is originally from Northern Ireland, said that despite her predicament, the only emotion she allowed herself to feel on her wedding day was joy. "Obviously, being in the wheelchair and not able to walk was very upsetting for me on my wedding day," she told reporters.
Because of her injuries, Hannah sat during most of the ceremony, but wanted to stand for one very important part. "I was determined to stand for my vows," she said. "It was hard on me to stand for that long even with Stuart holding me up, but it doesn't seem obvious in the pictures and video the pain I was in."
Hannah continued to heal in the months subsequent to the wedding day. She is now able to walk around the house using a cane. She added: "Stuart has never left my side during all of this … He was strong for both of us. He always made me see how blessed I was."
I believe this is a powerful word picture for us. We, too, were wounded by sin and helpless, but God came to our aid and carried us into a loving relationship with Himself. During this month that typically focuses upon love – Valentine’s Day – let us remember the remarkable, inexpressible, unfathomable, unconditional love that God expresses to us in his Son, Jesus. Romans 8:38 reminds us, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Keep the faith,
The New Year is upon us. As a result, many of us will likely make resolutions. Webster defines resolution as being "marked by firm determination." In his book A Journey to Bethlehem, Jason Soroski offers the following definitions of a resolution:
What about applying resolution to our faith? Hebrews 12:2 assists us, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning it shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Shall we resolve to focus with greater intensity on our relationship with Jesus in 2019?
Keep the faith,
It appears to me that professing followers of Jesus more and more believe that they can maintain their faith apart from being in consistent community with other believers. Belonging to a small group or worship attendance is considered optional. We busy our lives with so much activity; none of which is necessarily bad. But the frenetic nature of our lives robs us of attending to what is truly important – what has eternal significance. We may not even realize it!
I would like to encourage all of us to reflect on our calendars. That to which we devote most of our discretionary time is what is most significant to us. Will any of us at the end of our lives say that we wish we had prayed, worshiped and study God’s Word less?
Speaking of the critical importance of Christian community, author and Presbyterian pastor Eugene Peterson has said, “Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride. Grace cannot be received privately: cut off from others, it is perverted into greed. Hope cannot develop in solitude: separated from the community, it goes to seed in the form of fantasies. No gift, no virtue can develop and remain healthy apart from the community of faith. "Outside the church there is no salvation" is not ecclesiastical arrogance but spiritual common sense, confirmed in everyday experience.”
Hebrews 10:25 encourages us with these words, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as your see the Day approaching.”
Keep the faith,
Here is a segment from a recent sermon concerning how to address forgiveness:
In his book Victory Over the Darkness, Dr. Neil T. Anderson offers solid, scriptural advice regarding forgiveness:
Keep the faith,
In his book The Self-Aware Leader, author Terry Linhart speaks of the paper used for standard letter writing and school essays. It is 8.5 x 11 inches, or 93.5 square inches. Most teachers require one-inch margins for class papers. That's the standard we've become accustomed to seeing. But have you ever stopped to consider what percentage of the page that margin occupies? Most people will answer anywhere from 15 to 25 percent.
But a one-inch margin on a standard sized paper is 37.4 percent of a page's area. More than one-third of the page is given to space. And that's just around the edges. When you double-space the lines of text, a majority of the paper is blank.
The empty border helps us focus on the printed text. It creates a comfortable feel for our eyes. Stylish magazines help readers focus on the text and images by using large amounts of margin on each page. Sometimes we use even more margin in catalogs and on blogs.
Sometimes people think that margin (sometimes called "white space") is wasteful and inefficient. They pack as much print as possible on the page. But have you ever seen a page packed with text from top to bottom and side to side? You'll get tired looking at it, even before you begin reading it.
In the same way, we need margins and space in our lives; blank spaces in our busy days, Sabbath time, times of prayer. This provides opportunity to deepen our relationship with others and God. What are the margins in your life – 1 maybe 2 percent? Please consider increasing it, especially in regard to prayer and intentional reflection. Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
One specific request: In your margin time, would you lift in prayer Pastor Andrew Brunson (and his family), an Evangelical Presbyterian Church pastor being held unjustly by the Turkish government?
Keep the faith,
Excerpt from my upcoming Easter Sunday message:
In his 2017 book Unbelievable, Justin Brierley writes convincingly that the resurrection is the only adequate explanation for the historical evidence found in the Gospels.
He tells of the ongoing debate between New Testament Scholars Mike Licona and Bart Ehrman who have very different takes on the resurrection of Jesus. Ehrman let go of his Christian faith after encountering perceived problems with the New Testament. Mike Licona had a similar crisis of faith in the early years of his academic career when his study of the New Testament didn't match what he had been taught about it while growing up. However, whereas Ehrman's study led him away from Christianity, Licona's research convinced him that the resurrection was the only adequate explanation for the historical evidence he found in the Gospels.
Other pieces of the puzzle fell into place as Licona began to appreciate how the New Testament accounts reflected the literary conventions of their day rather than the modern standards often imposed on them by both Christians and critics. During one of his dialogues with Licona on the show, Ehrman rattled off a list of differences between the Gospel accounts of the resurrection, such as the number of women and the accounts of angels at the empty tomb. [By the way, there are reasonable explanations for these "apparent" contradictions.]
He argued that these differences give reason to doubt the reliability of the resurrection story. Naturally, Licona knows these differences just as well as Ehrman but he didn't find that they count against the overall strength of the account. Licona argues that this is a bit like the Titanic. There were conflicting accounts from survivors, such as whether the ship broke in half before sinking or whether it went down in its entirety. But no one called into question whether the Titanic sank or not. It was the periphery details that were in question. It is the same thing with the New Testament. They are all peripheral details that have no impact on the fundamental truth of Christianity.
Dr. Licona concludes: "No matter how much one may loathe the idea that Jesus rose from the dead and fantasize about other outcomes, the historical bedrock remains the same …. Jesus' resurrection is the best historical explanation of the relevant historical [evidence]."
The Apostle Paul adds to the weight of this argument, chronicling many of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of who are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”
Implicit within what Paul says is perhaps the most convincing circumstantial proof for Jesus’ bodily resurrection. That is, Jesus appeared to 500 plus people. The Jewish and Roman authorities could not refute their claim that he had rise
Friends, Jesus has indeed risen. This is what we celebrate not just on Easter Sunday, but every Sunday. Despite our culture’s avoidance and denial concerning the reality of the resurrection, we each have an opportunity to positively respond to what a risen Savior personally means. Hopefully after some reflection this week, we will fully embrace this reality and be here next Sunday (and subsequent Sundays). Let us discover together – here and now – why in a fallen and broken world Jesus provides assured hope of a new and better world – a world made right – where we, too, will experience resurrection life.
In 1 Corinthians 15:54b-57, Paul again encourages us with these words. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Keep the faith,
Richard Halverson, former pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Bethesda, Maryland and also the former chaplain of the United States Senate used the following benediction at the end of each service/message for many years in his ministry. It reflects his deep conviction that his church was not only where the congregation met on Sundays, but at each place where they lived and worked through the week.
Wherever you go, God is sending you.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
God has a purpose in your being right where you are.
Christ, who indwells you by the power of his Spirit,
wants to do something in and through you.
Believe this and go in his grace, his love, his power.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
May this be the prayer for each of us as we journey this life with Jesus at our side. Paul tells us in Philippians 4:11-12, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
Keep the faith,
Originally from Huntington Beach, CA, Tony received his Bachelor's degree in religion from USC and his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry from Talbot School of Theology. Tony loves spending time with his wife, Sheri, and their two sons and daughter (Bryce, Braden, and Brooke); cheering for the USC Trojan football team; and playing tennis.