An empty life needs an empty tomb

Over 2200 people swarmed into the auditorium of White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ for Easter Sunday morning. There was great singing by the praise team and the congregation and songs with solo parts by elder Gordon Dasher and  Missy Robertson of Duck Dynasty. My heart was full to the point of tears as we sang about the One the tomb could not hold.

Jase Robertson gave a wonderful communion meditation and together we remembered the body and blood of the Lord Jesus who died for our sins. We gave our gifts and then Alan Robertson and Mike Kellett gave a wonderful message about Jesus and his work for sinners like us. An empty life can only be filled with the one the tomb was emptied of. The whole service focused on the good news about Jesus and what he accomplished by living and dying and then living again “for us”.

When the invitation was given many walked to the front (no one ever goes forward at the invitation alone) for prayers for sick family members, problems with marriages, and personal failures. And there was the usual love and forgiveness sealed with hugs and tender words of encouragement, and of course sincere prayers asking God to intervene as He wills.

Among those who came forward was a man whose beard and long hair resembled Jase Robertson. He and his wife had driven in from Indiana. Jase explained that this morning he had shared the good news with this man and then asked him what he had to say to the congregation. His words were brief and to the point. “I have lived a very rough life for the past 41 years and I want to give myself to Christ”. Soon Jase baptized this 41-year-old, a 13-year-old girl, and an African-American family of five, dad, mom, and three teens. Seven people who were helpless and hopeless have decided to follow Jesus and now the one who is the resurrection lives in them and they are assured they will live forever because of Him alone.

After sharing a delicious meal with my daughter, son-in-law, and our three grandsons, I am home and I can say that Easter this year was God blessed and couldn’t have been better.

If you read these words, somebody you, whose life is a mess, with no hope for a future with God, Jesus Christ is the answer! I hope you will consider him and his claims.

Royce Ogle

Easter 2013

Accepted by God? You didn’t do that!

Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. (Romans 5:9)

God did that! No man can truthfully lay claim to any part of his own justification. It is wholly a work of God accomplished by the sinless life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus.

18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

“ALL this is from God”! “God through Christ reconciled us to himself.”, God “gave us the ministry of reconciliation”. It is God who is “not counting their trespasses against them”.

Remember the story of the tax collector and Jesus? Jesus invited himself to dine with this little man, Zacchaeus, and was roundly condemned for eating with sinners. Jesus announced to those who were present “Today salvation has come to this house”. (Luke 19:9). When Jesus showed up salvation showed up! Then Jesus defined his mission in no uncertain terms.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10)

Jesus does both the “seeking” and the “saving”. Ungodly men and women are not looking for Him, He is looking for them. People do not save themselves, Christ saves them.

A man centered gospel is no gospel at all. A gospel that is accomplished through rites and rituals is no gospel at all. A gospel of do’s and don’t’s is no gospel at all. A gospel that is accomplished by the goodness of man is no gospel at all.

The Bible pictures those who are not Christians as being spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) and the cure is that God makes sinners live! (Ephesians 2:5-6). Christians are said to have been adopted (Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:5, Ephesians 1:5) into the family of the faithful. Is anyone so naive as to think someone who is dead can give himself life? Can an orphan baby cause his own adoption? Of course not!

The reason the story of the worth and work of Jesus for sinners is “gospel”, or “good news” is that sinful men and women are helpless to fix themselves, but God has made reconciliation by the blood of Jesus! The offering of Jesus’ perfect life satisfied God’s demand that you and I be perfectly righteous. And in His sacrificial death by crucifixion God’s holy wrath against your sins and mine was absorbed fully in that horrific punishment of rejection and death.

Not only did Jesus live for us the life we couldn’t live, and die the death we should have died, He was raised out of death to die no more so that we too can live forever!

None of this, no tiny part of this is our own doing. the old song says, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe”. If Jesus did all that needs to be done for God to justify sinners like me and you we can boldly reject every voice that claims something different and declare the good news that Jesus saves!


Religious but lost

There was once a man who had done everything right. His family heritage was a good godly one. He had been taught the scriptures from his youth. He had studied hard, kept his nose clean, and eventually had risen to the top ranks of his religion. He enjoyed all the prestige of one who sat on the highest court of the Jews. None was more skilled in the law and it’s application. He meticulously kept the law the very best he could. He had the respect of his peers and of the community. He had achieved all the success one in his day could imagine. And, by all known standards, he was a very good man.

It was this man who came to inquire of Jesus, “Just who are you?” He acknowledged Jesus had come from God. No man could do what Jesus had clearly done of himself. Surely he must at a minimum be a prophet from God.

Jesus did not answer his questions. Instead, after asking some demeaning questions he announced to him “You MUST be born again!”

As you can imagine, Nicodemus was astonished. It made no sense. Born again? What was Jesus saying?

Your family history, your religious experience, your affluence, your social status, how much Bible you know, which church or synagogue you attend, and a thousand other things will not earn an  entrance into God’s family. You must be born again! You must be recreated. There is nothing to start with. Compared to God’s holiness the best man alive doesn’t even begin to be good enough in any way to stand approved by the Holy God and his Christ.

Yet, today in many of our churches we are busy trying to reform each other, blinded by the absurd belief that just the right measure of moral improvement will make us acceptable to God. Don’t do that, but instead do this. Become an actor like us we advise. Play the part. Act religious and you’ll soon be religious… But Jesus said “You MUST be born again”.

You and I are completely helpless and hopeless to change ourselves into people who please God. That is His exclusive work of grace. He alone can make something out of nothing. Here, I’ll let you read Jesus’ instructions about how to be born again. And oh, this is very, very important, you MUST be born again or you will NEVER see the kingdom of God.

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:7-21)


You can’t tell a book by it’s cover

Many thousands of years ago God gave Samuel a lesson about how to choose a leader. Just as Samuel was about to anoint the wrong person God gave him this admonition.

 “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1st Samuel 16:7)

Samuel was using the only criteria at his disposal as a man to pick a leader. He could only judge with his natural senses. Each of us are like Samuel are limited to what we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. None of those or a combination of them were good enough to judge with worthiness of a man for God’s use. Neither are they good enough for me to judge you and your relationship to God.

Obviously, what we see and hear give us some great insight as we observe others. But as God told Samuel, we are limited to the external part of each other.

It’s very interesting that God gave his law, a written code, on tables of stone. “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy” was one of the ten commandments. He was pretty clear about what he wanted and rejected. Some of the Jews insisted God hadn’t said enough, so they added amendments. They wanted to “see” if someone was observing the day or not so they fixed it. They added about 40 things that were forbidden and under many of those were further additions so that finally there were literally scores of laws, any of which if broken by a Jew make him guilty, presumably before God. They went to such lengths that in their minds Jesus was guilty of breaking the law because he forgave sins on that day!  To add to the confusion, different groups of zealots had different laws about the Sabbath Day. Does this sound familiar?

God says to Christians “Don’t neglect to meet together as is customary to some, to encourage each other…” (Hebrews 10:25) Simple enough isn’t it? Not a lot of rules to be broken. Ah, but along comes a legal beaver with a Wal-Mart suit and he (and others like him) makes it more clear and easier to observe. You must be at “the building” on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and all of the days of the annual “gospel meeting” (and many, many more). Violate any of these and you are in danger of hell, that is according to the zealots.

Once you get to the “building”, God says “Eat the bread and drink the wine together to remember the Lord until he comes. Sing to each other in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs…make melody in your hearts.” It sounds nice doesn’t it? Enter elder Joe Bob Dogooder. He and his ilk insist that you sing only a certain kind of song, a certain number of songs, decide who can stand where while singing, there can be no musical instrument, no clapping of hands, no raising of hands, and no solo singing. Not very inviting huh? Well, I could go on.

Presently there is a huge push back against those of us who teach that sinners are saved by faith. That is that God justifies those who turn away(repent) from their life of self and simply put their trust (faith) in Jesus who died to pay for their sins. God calls it grace. People who claim to be exclusive representatives of God claim it’s bogus and cheap. Their claim is that God needs to see what you are doing and they appeal to James and Matthew as primary sources for their proof texts. Oh, there is Acts chapter 2 as well.

Jesus said something unusual to Nicodemus when they had their late evening chat. Jesus talked about the wind. The wind? Yes. He told this well educated Jewish leader that those who are “born of the Spirit” are like the wind!

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. (John 3:8)

Being born of the Spirit is not something you can see, like the wind. You can hear it blowing the leaves of the olive trees but the wind is not observable. It makes some folks jittery to talk of spiritual things but Jesus did. A true Christian has been “born from above”, “born of the Spirit”. When God justifies a sinner and makes him his child it is a spiritual transaction. In God’s kindness he has given us some tangibles that point to this spiritual event. Confession is one of those. We can hear words. Apart from the Lord’s Supper, water baptism is the most beautiful illustration of this spiritual birth. As one goes into the water his object lesson says “I am dying with Christ, dying to my old life”, and when he is raised up from the water he is saying by that “I will now live the Christ life, I am a new man”.

God made it very simple. Along comes brother Dogooder again. He redefines the new birth to no less than 5 acts, (or according to some, 6 things). It’s as if God is only a spectator sitting on the edge of his seat waiting to see if some sinner will do all those things so he can say “Approved!”. God doesn’t wonder what a person will do, he knows. Added to his omniscience is the fact that Jesus can “see faith”. He knows what is in the heart of a man before he takes a step or says a word. But we tend to want to only affirm things we can physically measure or monitor. Not so with God!

Here are two contrasting examples of this. The first is from Luke

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.  And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 15:14,15)

Have you ever met anyone like this? I have. Jesus set the record straight. You see, they probably had some of those who observed them believing that, with all their trappings of religion, they were really fine men of God. They didn’t fool Jesus. “God knows your hearts”! It’s good to keep this in mind. What men think is very cool and might impress God, He finds to be awful! Now the opposite example.

And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe.  And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.” (Acts 157-9)

Peter was defending having baptized Gentiles. And, he baptized Gentiles who got the order all messed up. They received the Spirit before they were baptized and were praising God! Peter, like Jesus earlier, set the record straight. God decided that “Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and…believe”. And moreover, “God, who knows the heart bore witness to them…” God knew they had put their faith in Him before a song was sung, before the invitation was given, and before the waters were disturbed. God Knows!

It seems to me a good plan is to stay out of God’s way. Love people, love them enough to tell them the good news, and God will take care of the saving. We have the joy of baptizing them in water and teaching them to become good disciples. Gospel song writer Mark Lowery wrote a song part of which says ‘I catch’em God cleans’em”.

In my view we should stop trying to reduce God’s plan of redemption to a neat little check off sheet as if he has appointed us to grade the papers. God was doing quite well before you and I came along and he can do well without our amendments to his plans. There are millions of people who don’t look like me, sound like me, worship like me, or live like me who might not meet my approval but are some of God’s own dear children. I think it would be good for all of us people of the dust to stop trying to be God. We don’t do a good job of it.