Friday, October 21, 2016
Come and join eleven-year-old Kiisa as she goes to boarding school in Africa, deals with the many challenges of school, bullies, and friends, meets a wagtail bird who can talk, becomes engaged in rebel attacks and kidnapping, and takes her part in a dramatic rescue.
This is what the reader will find in J. A. Myhre’s second youth novel, A Bird, a Girl, and a Rescue. As one reads through the action packed-novel, which is based on historical facts, the reader get a feel for life of a young person in Africa and learns terminology of the area – a handy glossary is at the end of the book, which is well illustrated by Acacia Masso.
While enjoying the story and a place likely different from one the reader has experienced, he or she will be confronted with the theme that he or she may be where he or she is “for such a time as this” – which for biblically literate readers will ring a bell.
Might it not be that you are where you are because you are needed to be there to accomplish something?
This is a very enjoyable book and can lead to fruitful discussions about one’s purpose and value in life.
[I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This review appears on my blog and on Amazon.com.]
October 16, 2016 Second Reformed Church
Are you secure?
We, as Christians, have a unique security. And it doesn’t have anything to do with locks or alarms or weapons – in fact, none of those things can ultimately help us. We have a unique security that no deep-voiced scary TV guy can talk us out of or make us disbelieve. Do you know what I am talking about?
It is still Maundy Thursday as we turn to our text. Judas has left to betray Jesus, and Jesus has begun to teach the Eleven one last time. Jesus explains that it is time for Him to leave, and the Eleven can’t follow. He tells them that they are to love as He loves – Christians are to love with the love of service and self-sacrifice. And Peter questions Jesus, and Jesus tells him that he will deny Him three times before the next crowing of the rooster.
Jesus continues to teach, and He tells the Eleven to stop being troubled.
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
Literally, Jesus tells them to stop being troubled.
Why were the Eleven troubled?
Well, Jesus told them that He was leaving and they could not go. Judas was in the midst of betraying Jesus – which would bring the Temple and Roman law against Jesus and His disciples. And Jesus said Peter would deny Him.
The Eleven were shaken: what was happening? Had they been wrong about Jesus being the Savior? What was going to happen to them? Would they be arrested? Would they be killed? What were they to believe if Jesus was killed? How could He be Who He said He was all along?
They are agitated and confused. And Jesus tells them to stop being troubled. Stop being agitated. Stop being confused.
And we might wonder if Jesus is being a hypocrite in saying this, since He is troubled. Jesus is troubled in the sense of being angry against sin and what He was going to suffer and the wiles of the devil that sucks people into sin and unbelief. Jesus is not being a hypocrite.
The Eleven are troubled in the sense that they don’t know if they have been wrong about Jesus all along. They are troubled in the sense that they are worrying about what will happen to Jesus and them.
Jesus tells them to stop being troubled and instead, believe in God the Father and Him. Jesus tells them not to worry, but to rest in their belief – in what they know to be true – about God the Father and Jesus. Instead of worrying, hold to what you know about God being Sovereign and loving His people and Jesus being the Son and Savior Who loves us to death on the cross.
Jesus tells us this about those who would persecute us for His sake and the sake of the Gospel: “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:26-33, ESV).
Stop worrying: God is Almighty and loves us. God is so involved with every moment of our lives that He knows exactly how many hairs you have on your head right now, and a sparrow cannot die without His Will or permission. This is our God of power and love.
Stop worrying: keep what you know about God – His Power and His love for we who believe – before you. Trust Him. Believe in Him. Hope in Him.
Jesus says we are to stop being troubled and believe.
Jesus continues by saying that He is going to prepare a place in His Father’s house for each one who believes.
“In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?”
Another reason not to be troubled – another reason not to worry – is that there are many rooms in the Father’s house – or, as some translations put it – there are many mansions in the Father’s house.
Jesus tells the Eleven to stop worrying about what will happen after He is taken by the Pharisees and the Romans, because there is a place for each one who believes in the Father’s house – and when Jesus returns to the Father, He will personally prepare your place for you and for each one who believes.
Jesus tells the Eleven that even if they are persecuted and lose their homes and possessions and family and friends and even their very lives – and most of them did, don’t worry about it, because He is going to personally prepare a place for them in the Father’s house – in His perfect mansion containing mansions – an immense and perfect place beyond anything we can conceive – in the presence of God.
Jesus is telling them to stop worrying about what might happen to them and their possessions in this life, but to keep before them the home with God that Jesus is personally preparing.
Paul writes the church at Ephesus: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,” (Ephesians 1:3, ESV).
Paul says it’s a done deal – we, Christians, ought to bless God – the God Who has – now – already – blessed us “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” Jesus has prepared a place for everyone who will ever believe, in the Father’s house. It is done. And our place has been given to us already – it is our blessing now – it is our inheritance now.
And Jesus makes this promise to the Church in Philadelphia, “The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Revelation 3:12, ESV).
Jesus says we are to stop worrying and know that we have a place in the Father’s house.
Jesus has prepared a place in His Father’s house for each one of us who believes.
Third, Jesus says that He is going to prepare a place, and return for those who believe.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
“Stop worrying,” Jesus tells the Eleven, “Because if I leave to prepare a place for you, I will come back for you and bring you to that place. If I leave to prepare a place for you, I will come back and keep you in My embrace – I will keep you safe for all of eternity. If I leave to prepare a place for you, I will come back and bring you to where I am and where we will forever be.”
Jesus promises the Eleven – He promises us, “I’ll be back.”
And we are to stop worrying, because Jesus will bring us to the place He prepared for each of us. We will be united with Him in His embrace – we will never be apart from Him again – we will be with Him in the place where He is and where He plans to bring us.
The writer of Hebrews explains this as he writes about those who have died in the faith, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Hebrews 11:13-16, ESV).
None of us living have seen the place that Jesus has prepared for us, but we are to stop worrying about it, because we know the Father and the Son and their power and love, so we can look forward to what will be – confident that it is so – because Jesus has promised that He went to prepare a place for us, will return, embrace us, and be with us forever.
Jesus tells us to stop worrying, because He is preparing a place for us, and He is coming back for us, and will be with us forever, and we know the way to the Father’s house.
Fourth, Jesus explains that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
“Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
Thomas speaks – perhaps for the Eleven – and tells Jesus that, since they don’t know where He is going, they can’t know the way to get to where He is going.
Thomas – they – did not understand what Jesus had been saying even a moment earlier: Jesus was returning to the Father to prepare places for them in the Father’s house.
Jesus answers him by saying, “I Am” – and we remember that Jesus uses an expression which we translate, “I Am,” a number of times in John – and we saw that this expression is the same as that Most Holy Name of God that God gave to Moses. So, Jesus repeatedly announces to the Eleven that He is God.
Here, Jesus’ answer is: I am God the Way. I am God the Truth. I am God the Life.
Jesus is going to God the Father – to the Father’s house to prepare it for all those who believe, and Jesus tells them to stop worrying:
“I am God, the Way to the Father. If you want to return to the Father – if you want to go to the Father’s house – I am the Way. I will show you how to get there. I will enable you to get there. It is through faith alone in Me that you can get there.”
“I am God, the Truth personified; I am the embodiment of Truth. All Truth is in Me and through Me and by Me. I am ‘the only reliable source of redemptive revelation’ (Hendriksen, John, 268). I expose the Truth of sin. I reveal the Truth of being right with God. I am the Way to know and believe and encounter the Truth.”
“I am God, the Life.” The word that is used here for “life” does not merely indicate “living a good life,” but that Jesus is the Giver of Life, He is the God who brings things to life and brings them to the end of their days. Everything that exists and lives and breathes does so by the Will and the Power and the Mercy of Jesus.
Jesus caps this off by telling the Eleven that It is absolutely impossible to come to the Father – to be made right with the Father – except through Jesus Alone. The Way to be reconciled to God is through Jesus Alone and the Way is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ Alone. It is only through the Truth of Jesus Christ – the Gospel – the Son’s incarnating in the Person of Jesus, living, dying, rising, and ascending to be the Savior of all who believe. There is only spiritual resurrection and eternal life with God – the One, Almighty God – through Jesus and His Gospel.
We see that coming to the house of the Father is secondary to coming to the Father. In order to be reconciled to God the Father and receive His blessings, to be able to stop worrying – it cannot be accomplished except through Jesus Alone. Faith in Jesus Alone is necessary – He Alone can make us right with the Father and tell us the truth and bring us along the way and through the Way to be received by Him into eternal life.
Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
We can only come to the Father through Jesus, believing Him as true, having been resurrected by Him to new spiritual life.
Finally, if you know and see Jesus, you know and see the Father.
“If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Jesus tells the Eleven that anyone who knows Him – and one who has a deep, intimate relationship with Jesus – also has a deep, intimate relationship with the Father. Since God the Father and God the Son are the same One Being, the intimate relationship is the same across the Persons. And having seen Jesus in the flesh, they saw God Himself.
So, are you secure?
We said as we began that we, as Christians, have a unique security. We have reason to stop worrying. We have Jesus Christ Who is the One Way to the Father, the One Truth and Life Who leads us from death to life and reconciliation.
We have the unique security in knowing God through His Word, and so we can trust in Who we know Him to be and what we know about His character.
We have the unique security in knowing that God the Son is preparing a place for us in the Father’s house, and He will return for us and bring us to the place He has prepared and we will be with Him forever.
We have the unique security in knowing that our God is Sovereign and loves us, and no matter what happens between now and when He returns for us, we are saved by Him and for Him and in Him, and we are eternally His.
So, stop worrying.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, worry comes easy to us. In our fallen state, we believe that everything rises and falls on us. Yet, You have told us in the Psalms that You listen to the plans of men against You and laugh, because You are the One Sovereign God. In Your love and through God the Holy Spirit Who lives in us, help us to stand strong against all those temptations to worry, rebuking them, for we know our God, and He has given us, in Himself, unique and unbreakable security. For it in in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.