Does Encounter Always Lead to Transformation?
“When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly, this was the Son of God.” – Matthew 27:54
There were many characters who observed the crucifixion of Jesus, many bad, some good. There were mockers, those who scorned Jesus, the Gospel writers reported, those who harangued the Son of God with jeers and angry retorts. There were those who worked for the government, soldiers following orders, very much unconcerned in crucifying an innocent man. They had enthusiastically participated in his torture through scourging, whipping with sharp pieces of metal tied to leather braids meant to ravage the flesh of a human body, and even going beyond, by crafting a crown of woven thorn branches which they savagely forced down on his head. Some of the soldiers cast lots for his clothes.
There was an officer of the soldiers, a centurion, intent on carrying out his death sentence. There were Pharisees and Sadducees, leaders of the Jews, most all sworn enemies of Jesus, yearning for his destruction, standing arrogantly by and surveying with approval the horrific scene of his murder. There were also some disciples, and a few followers, including women friends, and, of course, Jesus’ mother, who all grieved and mourned his pain wracked, fiendish treatment. Finally, there were two thieves, murderers, who were condemned to death on each side.
These all were eye witnesses to his crucifixion. They witnessed the gruesome scene, some with copious tears, and others with evil delight. They observed darkness descend inexplicably in the middle of the day over the three crosses on Golgotha and, indeed, the whole land. Some actually heard the few words Jesus spoke from the cross. They saw him succumb to death before the two thieves’ legs were broken to kill them more quickly. They watched a soldier then thrust a spear into Jesus’ side, causing blood and water to gush out.
It was observed that the centurion and some of the soldiers who witnessed all this come to a sudden realization: the innocence of this man. The centurion, considering the unexplained darkness, and the great earthquake, and all that transpired, burst forth with an exclamation, “Truly, this man was the Son of God!” Obviously dawning on him and even some of the soldiers, they had just crucified the Son of the Living God. Were they terrified? Were they struck with horrified fear? What must have passed through their minds? Was this a realization which would change them permanently? Or would it affect only momentarily? They had had an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. Would it be an encounter which would forever change their hearts? Would it lead to transformation? Would they become new creatures? Or would the moment pass leaving them unchanged?
I think of the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. They witnessed angels declaring to them his birth, a heavenly host filling the sky above them, praising the birth of God’s Son, telling them to go and find the babe in a manger, a babe worthy of their worship. They went, and found just as they were told by the angel, and worshipped the babe, and then told everyone they met about all that they had witnessed. This was an encounter with the most remarkable baby ever born, but he did not speak to them, or teach with great authority. He cried and gave the sounds of a new born baby. Did this encounter bring spiritual transformation? Were they dramatically changed by this encounter? Did they become disciples of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Did the encounter on this night of nights lead to their eternal transformation? We are not told in the Scriptures any more of these shepherds. We only assume we shall see them in the new heaven and new earth. I believe we will.
We have to wonder this about the centurion and soldiers who acknowledged who Jesus was; He was indeed as they exclaimed, the Son of God. Many of the young men who come to the Paul Anderson Youth Home experience while here an encounter with Jesus. Does this lead to permanent transformation in their lives? Are they genuinely changed? Do they begin an authentic walk with the Lord, a growing relationship, never going back to an unbelieving life? If there is really an encounter with Jesus Christ, does it take hold of their spirit, does God’s Spirit regenerate their soul, abiding in them forever?
If an encounter does not go on to become transformational, it is no different than the encounter Judas had with Jesus and then betrayed him; no different than Demas, who left Paul, “having loved this present world”; no different than the rich young ruler who left Jesus sad, loving his riches more; no different than Cain, or Balaam, or Korah, or Aachen, or Hymenaeus, or Alexander, who rejected the Gospel to be turned over to Satan.
It is always our fervent hope that the young men at the Home have a genuine encounter with Jesus which transforms them, which results in their regeneration, in becoming a new creature in Christ; that they walk with the Lord in newness of life, so that no one can ever pluck them out of their Savior’s hand. An encounter with Jesus should lead to a transformed life, but not every encounter does. It is our prayer that every graduate of this Home will one day stand beside us and hear the words of their Savior and Heavenly Father, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the reward reserved for you.” This is the kind of success we pray for in each of these young men’s lives.
“O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be; let that grace now like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it–prone to leave the God I love: here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”
(3rd verse of Robert Robinson’s hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” 1758)
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Hope for the Hopeless
I don’t think many people would disagree that we live in a dark age. If you turn on the news, it won’t be long before you hear a harrowing story of neglected children, school shootings, random murders, spousal abuse, human trafficking, racism, poverty, disease, natural disasters, or general mass chaos. In their most recent reports, the CDC and the FBI cite 41,145 suicides, 699,202 abortions, 90,185 rapes, 15,809 homicidal fatalities, 327,374 robberies, and 813,862 divorces in the United States in 2015. In such a godless day in age, our future can appear dismal. Yet, as believers, we have something bigger to hold on to: HOPE.
What exactly is hope? The dictionary defines it as “the feeling of wanting something to happen and thinking that it could happen. We can hope that the Georgia Bulldogs win the SEC Championship, wanting the team to succeed and knowing that it could possibly happen, but there is no guarantee; it may or may not happen. However, as believers, our hope is certain. Hebrews 6:19 says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. The root of our hope is Jesus. No matter what happens to us, no matter how dark our surroundings become, and no matter how bleak the future looks, Jesus has overcome this world through His death and resurrection. His love for us is evident in His ultimate sacrifice on the cross, and His ever-faithful concern for us is demonstrated in His resurrection. Because He rose again, He is alive and present in every moment of our lives, loving us, interceding for us, sanctifying us, and molding us in His image.
So what does this mean for us in our everyday lives? First, we need not fear. When the world around us looks like a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, and darkness seems to prevail, we have hope; this is not our home, and Jesus defeated sin. When bad things are happening to good people, we have hope; our God’s love never fails, and He works for the good of those who love Him. When our future is uncertain, we have hope; God is all-knowing and trustworthy to direct our paths. When we experience loss, we have hope; Jesus is compassionate and understands our pain because He experienced every emotion we feel during His time on Earth. When we feel alone, we have hope; Jesus’ very last words before returning to Heaven were, “Surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age. No matter the circumstance, Jesus is greater, and He is our hope.
Second, we can walk in victory. I cannot articulate it better than Paul does in Romans 8: “If God is for us, who can be against us? …Christ Jesus who died — more than that, who was raised to life — is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. Paul’s words are saturated with hope! Nothing can separate us from Jesus or His love; no catastrophe, trial, distance, or darkness can take away our hope. Because of Jesus, we have conquered the dark despair of this world!
Finally, we must tell others about our hope. There is no shortage of hurting people in this world, and far too many of them are hopeless. If your neighbor loses their job, your coworker gets cancer, your friend’s husband leaves, your sister has a miscarriage, or you hear the other parents in the pickup line at school lamenting the “hopeless presidential election, don’t miss the opportunity to tell them about Jesus and the hope they can find in Him! The greatest help you can give the afflicted is the eternal hope for which we all long in the deepest parts of our souls – point them to the Author of hope!
It is not always easy to see this hope when we are surrounded by such devastation and evil, but we must intentionally remind ourselves when we start to feel discouraged, depressed, and hopeless. Psalm 42:11 says, “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God… The Psalmist recognizes his despairing heart, then reminds himself why his discouragement is unnecessary: God is his hope and salvation. Memorize Scriptures that talk about hope so that you are equipped and ready to counter the lies of despair Satan will undoubtedly seize you with. Psalm 71 says, “As for me, I will always have hope. Romans 15:13 reminds us, “Our God is a God of hope. Job 11:18 states, “You will be secure because there is hope; you will look about you and take your rest in safety. The Bible is full of encouraging verses of hope; utilize them!
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A Mere Matter of Believing God
“Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” – 1 Kings 18:38
It was a supreme competition to determine who was truly God and who was not. The stakes were high: life or death. Elijah had brought the idea to King Ahab, who was at his wits end with Elijah having conducted a country-wide search for him. Surely he planned to put Elijah to the sword upon finding him as he had done to countless others who appeared to obstruct him. Elijah’s idea to put a test to the prophets of the false gods, Baal and Asherah (750 false prophets to be exact), over against the true God stayed Ahab’s hand against his and Jezebel’s nemesis. Ahab really wanted to see this competition. It intrigued him. You have an idea that the worship of Baal and Asherah was his Sidonian wife Jezebel’s thing more than Ahab’s. He just went along. Nevertheless, he did go along and as the Scripture describes Ahab, he did more evil in the sight of the Lord than all his fathers, the previous rebellious Kings before him.
The competition was simple: two altars prepared with the sacrifice of an ox, cut up and placed on wood on a stone altar at the top of Mount Carmel before all Israel. The false prophets went first, praying for an entire day for Baal and/or Asherah to send down fire to burn this sacrifice. Elijah mocked their god’s silence, suggesting he was eating, sleeping, or relieving himself. In any case these non-entity gods remained silent all day, because they were man’s invention. Elijah built his stone altar, laid wood on it, and the cut up sacrificial ox. Then he went another length to prove the existence and power of the one true God. He dug a trench around his altar and then had four large jars of water poured on the altar, the sacrifice, and the wood. Not once, but three successive times. The water soaked the wood, the sacrifice, the altar, and then even filled the trench like a moat around the altar. Elijah then prayed to the one Almighty and True God, who did not remain silent. Fire came down from heaven and consumed the sacrifice, the wood, the altar, and licked up the water like it was gasoline. The 750 false prophets were then put to the sword. With no other recourse, Ahab and the people of Israel proclaimed Elijah’s God the True God, for He had spoken in response to Elijah’s prayer. Blinded to the powerful witness of God, dense Jezebel, who was not there to see it, claimed she would put Elijah to death for killing her prophets. Such hardened sin makes those like Jezebel completely irrational in utter disbelief.
So did this really happen? Does our idea of scientific fact allow this? Have any of us witnessed the like? Do the accounts of the Bible include myth and fairy tales? There are other accounts in the Bible of people being raised from death to life, great bodies of water dividing against the laws of gravity to allow passage on sea bed as dry land, the creating of human beings from dust and rib, the standing still of the sun, or should we say the orbit of the earth around it, the going back of the same so time reverses, the flooding of the earth with over-abundant water, the wrestling of Jacob with an angel appearing as a flesh and blood man, the remarkable miracle-plagues on Egypt, and the list goes on and on. Still such miracles are not an every day occurrence. In actuality, they are relatively rare; but are they real?
If you have no videos, only the word of the Scripture authors, and witnesses which are long dead, do you have acceptable proof? Like skeptics of the resurrection of Jesus say today, “If there was a camera at Jesus’ tomb on Easter Sunday morn, it would have recorded nothing!” Not according to eye witnesses, including those fear-intimidated soldiers; not according to those sent by Pilate or Pharisees to search for the missing body of Jesus (they knew he was dead, they had seen him die, and then pierced in his heart with the Centurion’s spear), or the need to bribe with money all the soldiers guarding the tomb to lie in telling an untrue story of his body being stolen, though they themselves had guarded the tomb; not according to over 500 witnesses who saw the risen Christ in multiple occurrences, speaking and eating, and disciples touching his healed wounds with their own hands.
So how do we respond? Do we think, or say, “This is all important stuff, good stuff, but it is still not actually true. It does something, something “good” for me, despite its not really happening.” There are those who have such convoluted, irrational thinking. That doesn’t do anything for me! Like Paul, I agree that if Christ is not raised, or these things that Scripture say actually occurred, did not, we are of all men to be sadly pitied!
Or, do we read the accounts thousands of years after, and because it is in God’s Word, and because Jesus verified by his own testimony its truthfulness and reliability and authority, we say and really believe, this is true? It happened just as it is written. If we had been there, we would have seen it with our own eyes. We would actually have walked through the Red Sea bed and escaped Pharaoh’s chariots and soldiers. We would have seen fire come down from heaven destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, and later Elijah’s stone altar and sacrifice on Mount Carmel, burning all the water as if it were gasoline.
Is this your personal witness of God’s Word? Is this Word your authority for how you live your life? Is it the sole guide to your world and life view? Do you see all things through its lense with the Holy Spirit as an ever present verifier of its truth? This is vital. It is essential to vibrant, genuine faith. “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them God will add to them the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
Jesus said, “Thy Word is truth.” If it is just as He said, God rained down fire from heaven on Mount Carmel that day, and the destructiveness of that fire burned stone, wood, sacrifice, and water. God made His presence and power clear to every human eye witness that day. He doesn’t do such every day. Why? You are to live by faith, not sight. Faith says to Jesus, “I believe, help thou my unbelief.”
“I know not how this saving faith to me he did impart, nor how believing in his Word wrought peace within my heart. But I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I’ve committed unto him against that day.”
(2nd verse of Daniel Whittle’s hymn, “I Know Whom I Have Believed,” 1883)
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Evil to its Full Extent
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9
The Anne Frank House in Amsterdam and its terrifying story is a poignant reminder of the great and terrible evil perpetrated by humans on their fellows, the ultimate exposure of the utter depths of human depravity. Anne was a young girl when her family went into hiding in her father’s office building. She had already dreamed of becoming a writer, a famous one she hoped. Little did she know. Her father returned at the end of the war, surviving the concentration camps of Hitler and his Nazis and yes, German, French, and Dutch, etc, sympathizers and collaborators, who all to an extent helped sustain and support the systemic destruction of their Jewish neighbors, and any who sought to help them. Otto Frank found Anne’s journal upon returning to the house where they hid until they were exposed by a Dutch neighbor, still unknown, but known in Hades. Two years later he had it published. Now it is read in languages all over the world.
The anti-Semitic persecution did not suddenly appear with Hitler. We were told of virulent anti-Semitism in the 1500’s in places like Regensburg, Germany during a tour we took there. Of course, it goes all the way back to Egypt when the Jews were forced into slave labor under the Pharaohs or taken into exile by powerful kings, and down through the ages God’s chosen people have suffered persecution more than any other people in history. Persecution of the Jews waxes and wanes through the centuries, but now in the West, America and Europe, as in the Middle East, of course, it is on the rise again. It is appearing in places like academia, where you should not expect it; are they not well educated? In PC circles as well; are they allegedly not well read?
Hitler could not act alone and do what he did; he had lots of help from the populace. Evil like this does not come merely from isolated bad people, though such can suddenly perform horrific acts of violence. No, it is even more heinous when a society consorts to perform systemic hatred. It is the sort of conspired evil that is now rising against genuine Christians who live out their faith in the public square; they do not hide their light under a bushel! And, did not Jesus promise us this response from the world? He said, “The world will hate you, as it hated me.”
Anyone who lives out their faith before a watching world, and does not keep silent in the face of godless, unlawful, immoral behavior, will invite the persecution of the world upon them. Ought they to remain silent, so as to fly under the radar, so to speak? To avoid the world’s notice and responsive hatred? The genuine Christian will speak out, his words and actions cannot be bound, out of his love for God and his love for others. Silent Christians are an oxymoron. As Paul professed, “The love of Christ compels me.”
Being a member of the Jewish race could be determined by such as Hitler and his collaborators, and down through the ages most Jewish people can be singled out. The people of God, Christians, are known by how they love one another, by their love for God in obeying His Word, and by knowing and proclaiming that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. “No one comes to the Father (God) except through Him.” Jesus is the exclusive way to eternal life. This they know and firmly believe. And this profession will set them apart; for persecution and for glory!
Just as young Anne was singled out for being a Jew, and forcibly taken to a concentration camp where she was most likely gassed, so you as a genuine follower of the Lamb, will most likely face persecution in this day for your faith. But take heart, Jesus has overcome the world. In Him, you will overcome and enter into the grandest of all rewards. Your joy will most assuredly be full!
“When I hear the wicked call, on the rocks and hills to fall, when I see them start and shrink on the fiery deluge brink, then Lord shall I fully know, not till then, how much I owe.”
(2nd verse of Robert Murray McCheyne’s hymn, “When this Passing World Is Done,” 1837)
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“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible.” – Hebrews 11:3
“For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.” – Colossians 1:16
The Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is one of my most favorite of the numerous museums in the world. I am enamored by Van Gogh’s skill and technique as an artist. He is a Neo-impressionist and practiced a technique called Pointillism. His colors are vibrant, and though a bit distorted from reality you can always tell, unlike some of the modernist painters, what it is that he is painting. But no matter how unrealistic a painting may be, shapes, colors, technique, it never has anything within it that is completely unique from what already is within the visible universe.
Everything in creation correlates to shapes, colors, humans, animals, plants, etc. which are and have been observed, even if it is a Star Wars type character or other-worldly, fictitious alien, allegedly from another planet, galaxy, or what have you. They always have legs, arms, mouth, nose, eye(s) even if garishly concocted or placed, like a cyclops; it is what we know, so our minds devise how to put it on canvas or movie screen. But no one is able to invent something totally unique. We cannot do it. Only the original Creator can. He designed and made what is. We are mere copyists; we are not creators in the same mold or ability as God. We cannot even imagine what is totally unique to anything which is.
To create ex nihilo, out of nothing, is God’s capacity alone. He is the magnificent designer and maker of all things and all beings. And what a grand designer He is, from the smallest to the greatest; from the intricate alpine flower to the expanse of the Milky Way. To observe all, to wonder, to be amazed, intrigued, entertained, is all to your benefit and happiness. The glory of God is made manifest by what He has made, and as creatures we can bask in His glory. You can take it all for granted, and be a miserable ingrate, to not be visibly, verbally, and consciously thankful for His marvelous grace in placing you in the midst of such a creation. And, then, for you who have believed, to anticipate living in the new heavens and earth which will continually thrill your eyes, your every experience, and your heart for eternity. It is too much to take in!
We should not be so overcome by our present pain to not allow who He is and what He has surely promised you in your future to effect within you a constantly thankful heart, a spirit of joy which will not be diminished. Pain and sorrow have many sources and impacts in your life, but your Creator, Redeemer, Father, and Friend rises above them all. Faith sees Him, believes His promises, and will not be dismayed. Like Abraham before you did by faith, see Him who is invisible, anticipate a city and a kingdom without foundations, whose architect and builder is God, for It will one day be your home!
“All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all. Each little flower that opens, each little bird that sings, he made their glowing colors, he made their tiny wings. The purple headed mountain, the river running by, the sunset and the morning that brightens up the sky. He gave us eyes to see them, and lips that we might tell, how great is God Almighty, who has made all things well.”
(1st, 2nd, and 5th verse of Cecil Alexander’s hymn, “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” 1848)
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