Great cartoon illustration from Adam4d.com, “This Will Never Be Jesus”
Great cartoon illustration from Adam4d.com, “This Will Never Be Jesus”
In Scotland, before you take your driver’s test, one thing they teach you is “MSM,” which stands for “Mirror, Signal, Maneuver.” In other words, look first in your mirror, make the signal, then maneuver…I’m asking you to take a look in the mirror of your life. Where are you? Do you need to make a signal to the Lord? You can say, “Lord Jesus, today I’m signing my name to You, signing my life, my family, my relationships, my all to You.” It’s one thing to feel that, or to think it, but quite another thing to do it. God sees and knows your heart. Just look in the mirror, give the signal, and make the maneuver. May God grant you grace to respond to His Word today.
-Alistair Begg (The Goodness of God; pp. 32-33)
By Matt Smethurst
In the early hours of Friday morning, Stephen and Emily McAlpin awoke to the sound of what they thought were fireworks. Within moments, however, it became clear what was happening outside was no celebration.
The story that gripped the nation was unfolding in their front yard.
In a hijacked Mercedes SUV, Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev were speeding through the streets of Watertown, Massachusetts, with as many as a dozen police cars in pursuit. Reports say the officers had to dodge homemade bombs hurled from the careening vehicle.
At roughly 12:50 a.m., the SUV screeched to a halt in front of the McAlpins’ house. The brothers opened fire, igniting a gun battle with police that involved more than 200 rounds of ammunition, additional makeshift bombs, and the death of the older Tsarnaev—”Suspect #1.”
With the sounds of terror—and even a couple of bullets—entering their home, Stephen and Emily huddled under a table and cried out to Christ. I corresponded with Stephen [Twitter | Blog], church planting resident at Hope Fellowship Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, about the night he and Emily will never forget.
On Friday, my wife Emily and I witnessed firsthand the gunfight between police and terrorists in Watertown, Massachusetts, as it happened in our front yard. It was like nothing we’d ever experienced. We first heard the gunshots and an explosion from our bedroom and, after calling 911, crawled with our dog to safety under the kitchen table where we cried out to Jesus for help, and then later into the bathtub for better cover, where we continued praying. We spent a lot of time in fear of death, even after the gunfire ceased and the police checked on us. In fact, we were on lockdown almost the entire day, hiding under our kitchen table as police disarmed explosives around us and searched for the terrorist who had escaped them. We later discovered that during the gunfight seven bullets had hit our home, with one going through our living room wall into our TV and one striking our car. The whole experience was terrifying and utterly unexpected, like a nightmare. Now, we just feel blessed to be alive and safe, and we believe it’s only because God answered our prayers.
Listening to your interview with CNN, I was struck by the peace you seemed to experience amid the terror. Where did this come from, and what was it like?
I believe the peace we experienced came from the Holy Spirit, who was a guiding light to us in a terrifyingly dark time. We experienced the Spirit’s peace most fully while praying. It was a kind of peace that felt like someone else was sharing it with us. As I led my wife in prayer there was like a bright light that calmed my thoughts and helped me to feel that life is a gift and that it’s all about Jesus. In our hearts we felt calmness and even joy at the idea of us finally being with God together. And physically, it was like God’s arms were being wrapped around us to cover us. Altogether, the peace we experienced led us into worship and gave us real hope. It was otherworldly.
You reflected that, while hovering under the kitchen table and later in the bathtub, you just held your wife and prayed. What were you praying?
Under the table, after I told my wife that I loved her, my prayer was basically: “God, thank you for the life you’ve given us together. Thank you for your grace. Oh God, protect us. Jesus, save us! We need you, save us! You’re our only hope. God, please show us grace by giving us safety. Please cover over us and surround us with your angels. Please protect our neighbors, too, and show them your grace.” Then I was just quiet and every so often prayed, “Oh Jesus, save us!” as I held my wife and dog.
When we later moved to the bathtub, shock was starting to set in, and we were trying to figure out what was happening, but we kept holding one another and praying. That time is kind of a blur, but I remember we were thanking God for his grace in protecting us thus far and asking him to quickly bring it all to an end.
What would you say to those who find themselves in situations of fear?
Pray, worshipfully. In situations of fear, there are really only two ways you can respond: worshiping God or not worshiping God. When you’re fearing for your life, that choice becomes a lot simpler. You strangely crave a meaningful life, if only for a moment. Don’t let that moment pass you by. Remember that Jesus is our only hope for true, meaningful life. Express your faith in him. Enjoy him—who he is and what he does—in that moment. Ask him to do the things that only he does, like gracefully saving sinners for his glory. He is faithful to answer.
If he rescues you in that moment, that’s an amazing thing that will change you and others forever. If he doesn’t rescue you in that moment, at least you’ll have had one of the best, sweetest moments of your entire life as you worshiped him in the threat of evil and death. God can do incredible things through worshipful, Christ-centered prayer.
What has God been teaching you and your wife in the hours since the experience?
The hours since the experience have been surreal, like waking up from a nightmare. A lot of people are, like us, trying to figure out how to move on. We recognize we’re still healing, so we trust there’s still a lot for God to teach us. Yet as we’ve looked back so far, God has been teaching us to remember that you can die any moment, so life is exceedingly precious. We have life in this world only because of Jesus and only for Jesus. He’s our only hope for true life—and this is true for everyone else. We’ve been challenged to cultivate a living hope in Jesus all the time—not just during crises—and to share our hope with others still lost in the darkness and unsure of how to overcome it.
In the aftermath of the event, we’ve been humbly surprised by how simply sharing our hope in Jesus during this dark time is making an impact on our neighbors, our city, and even people all around the world. We think God answered our prayers so that others might know how he can enter into and redeem anyone’s story through the person and work of Jesus Christ.
What are the odd that anyone could have accidentally fulfilled the prophesies regarding the coming Christ (Messiah) foretold in detail throughout the books of the Old Testament? Couldn’t Jesus have been in the right place at the right time and his fitting the profile be a coincidence?
The mathematical odds say, “Not a chance!”
Mathematician Peter W. Stoner laid out the odds, and Lee Strobel re
ports the odds in his book, The Case for Christ (p. 183):
The probability of just eight prophecies being fulfilled is one chance in one hundred million billion [1/1o^17]. That number is millions of times greater than the total number of people who’ve ever walked on the planet! [Stoner] calculated that if you took this number of silver dollars, they would cover the state of Texas to a depth of two feet. If you marked one silver dollar among them and then had a blindfolded person wander the whole state and bend down to pick up one coin, what would be the odds he’d choose the one that had been
Stoner also computed that the probability of fulfilling forty-eight prophecies was one chance in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion [1/10^157]!…This is a staggering statistic that’s equal to the number of minuscule atoms in a trillion, trillion, trillion, trillion, billion universes the size of our universe!
Guess what? Jesus didn’t just fulfill eight prophecies. He didn’t fulfill just forty-eight prophecies. Of the (at least) 61 prophecies regarding the coming Messiah, Jesus fulfilled them all. Yes, there are many other reasons to believe in Jesus as the Christ besides the math behind the prophecies, but the numbers certainly add up as well.
Applause for Attacking Gabby Douglas’s Faith? Really?:
It’s a sad commentary on modern life when I heard an exuberant 16-year-old thank God for the greatest success she might ever attain and immediately thought, “Someone’s going to attack her.” As surely as the night follows day, here comes Salon.com:
As a Christian myself (albeit one of those really freaky papist kinds), I’ve often wondered what it is about Christians like Douglas that unnerves me so. The closest I’ve been able to figure it is that Douglas and her ilk seem to espouse a faith based on what is commonly referred to as “The God of Parking Spaces.” It’s the deity that grants wishes to those who ask nicely. Douglas is a girl who has described God as the figure who’s “waking me up every morning and keeping me safe in the gym every day.” She told People Thursday, “I was on the bus and it was raining and I thought, ‘It’s going to be a great day.’ My mom used to tell me when I was little, ‘When it rains, it’s God’s manifestation, a big day’s waiting to happen.’ I texted my mom, ‘It’s raining. You know what that means.’ It means that Russian girl is going down, I guess.
Thank you, Salon, for that oh-so-snarky takedown of a triumphant teenager. What makes it even worse, of course, is that Gabby’s life has hardly been full of sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns before this moment. She’s known more fear and heartbreak than the average teenager. Her father’s an NCO in the Air Force, and her parents are divorcing under the strain of multiple deployments:
The pressure to perform to the best of her abilities without her father by her side was at times too much for ‘The Flying Squirrel.’
While living with her coach in Iowa, Gabby would often wake up with anxiety about her father at war.
She would rush to her computer and try to contact him on Skype.
‘[I] Just had bad days in the gym, thinking about my dad,’ she said to NBC before the Olympics.
‘I’m just like “Whoa, what if he doesn’t come back (from Iraq)?” I was just horrified. I prayed every night.’
While Gabby gave most Americans a moment of joy last week, her family has been sacrificing in deep and profound ways far, far from the spotlight and far from Salon’s condescending “tolerance.” Had Salon done its homework, it would have seen that Gabby does not in fact simply pray to the “God of Parking Spaces” but instead to the God who watches over a father at war, to a God who provides comfort in the midst of family heartbreak, and yes to a God who gives good gifts to His Children including — very rarely — an Olympic Gold Medal.
If the writers at Salon can’t watch a child thank her Lord and Creator for a great day — maybe even her greatest day — without sniping at her faith, perhaps they are the ones who need to grow up.
“[Jesus] is the medium of all communication between God and us. In him we meet; in him we walk. All influences of love, kindness, mercy, from God to us, are through him; all our returns of love, delight, faith, obedience unto God, are all through him – he being that “one way” God so often promises his people.”
-John Owen (Communion with the Triune God, p. 218)
There is a portion of the gospels that causes some people some concerns concerning the character of Jesus Christ. Sometimes the concern comes from environmentalists who see Jesus as not being very eco-friendly. Other times (the majority of the time) the concerns come from a sense that Jesus has expressed some unwarranted or unjustified anger. The portion of Scripture in question is about a fig tree that is not bearing fruit. It can be found in multiple gospel accounts, but the Gospel of Mark puts it like this:
The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it. (Mark 11:12-14)
Why does Jesus curse a tree for not bearing fruit when it is not even the season for bearing figs? Is Jesus not demanding the impossible and something contrary to nature? The scene appears to be looking bad for Jesus. Yet, add some horticulture knowledge of fig trees in the Middle East and a person will begin to see that this was not a temper-tantrum by Jesus. Timothy Keller describes it this way in King’s Cross:
Middle Eastern fig trees bore two kinds of fruit. As leaves were starting to come in the spring, before the figs came, the branches bore little nodules, which were abundant and very good to eat. Travelers liked to pick them off and eat them as they made their journey. If you found a fig tree that had begun to sprout leaves but had none of these delicious nodules, you would know that something was wrong. It might look okay from a distance because the leaves had emerged, but if it had no nodules it was diseased or maybe even dying inside. Growth without fruit was a sign of decay. Jesus is simply pronouncing that such is the case here (p. 160).
Common knowledge plant life has been explained. But is Mark simply recording an interested event in the life and times of Jesus, or is he recording the event under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make a bigger point? The latter. Keller explains:
Remember that this happens between his first arrival at the temple and his return to the temple the next day. Jesus seizes the opportunity to provide a private, memorable object lesson, a parable against hollow religiosity, with the fig tree as a visual aid… Jesus finds the fig tree not doing its appointed job. The tree became a perfect metaphor for Israel, and beyond that, for those claiming to be God’s people but who do not bear any fruit for him. Jesus was returning to a place that was religiously very busy, just like most churches are: tasks, committees, noise, people coming and going, lots of transactions. But the busyness contained no spirituality. Nobody was actually praying. There are many things we do that can appear to be signs of real belief but can grow without real heart change and without real compassionate involvement with others… Jesus is saying that he wants more than busyness; he want the kinds of character change that only comes from realizing that you have been ransomed (pp. 160-161).
The point is poignant. Are we simply busy with religious activities, or are actively engaged with the transforming life of Jesus Christ? Are we simply professing words of faith, or are we living by faith? If we are simply saying words and performing tasks life there will not be noticeable change. If we are living by faith there will be the fruit of change – change that is apparent to the world around us; change that is transforming us over time into resembling the person of Jesus Christ from the inside out.
The full impact of Jesus in a person’s life comes from centering one’s life on Jesus Christ and not attempting to fit Jesus somewhere into one’s life. Timothy Keller offers this concluding thought, “Please don’t try to keep Jesus on the periphery of your life. He cannot remain there. Give yourself to him – center your entire life on him – and let his power reproduce his character in you” (p. 162).