The Day I Almost Drowned

I will never forget the day I thought I was going to die. It was summer of 2006 and my friend Christopher Berera and I were swimming in the South Saskatchewan river near Saskatoon. Neither one of us were very good swimmers but we were having a great time and somehow managed to cross the river and explore the other side. When we decided it was about time to go, we walked a ways upstream knowing that the current would carry us down, and we wanted to land somewhere close to where all our stuff was. Christopher and I noticed there was a sandbar in the middle of the river, so we planned to stop there and rest, and then cross the rest of the way.

 

Well, as you may have guessed, things didn’t exactly work out as planned. We had never swam across a big river before and we underestimated the strength of the current. Christopher was able to land on the very end of the sandbar, but I missed it completely. However, instead of just turning and heading back to shore, I tried to swim against the current to where Christopher was on the edge of the sandbar. Bad idea! Trying swim against the current was like stepping on a treadmill going 30 miles an hour. It was an impossible task. In the midst of it all, when I had completely exhausted my energy reserves, I thought I was going to die. It was only for a few moments, but let me tell you, it was scary.

 

From this hopeless situation, I prayed the only prayer I knew how to pray. “GOD SAVE ME!” It was a prayer that I don’t think I had ever prayed before – at least with that sense of desperation. Almost immediately, I realized (by the grace of God) that I needed to turn back and not attempt to cross the river in my exhausted state. I tried to swim in a way that used as little energy as possible and it proved to be effective. Though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, Christopher had decided to swim back too. We reached the shore at about the same time and both collapsed in exhaustion. (Our dilemma was resolved after Christopher made a make-shirt raft which allowed us to cross the river).

 

It has been said before that in the midst of great suffering and desperation, no one is an atheist. That is true. No doubt, countless souls have cried out (like me) in desperation to God, knowing that He is the only one who can save them. But while many people recognize their plight when their physical life hangs in the balance, most don’t realize they have a spiritual problem that is even more serious than any life-threatening situation. And just like my near-death experience, it is only the Creator God that can save them.

 

Whether you know it or not, you are a sinner. You have broken God’s law, and you are deserving of death…..eternal death (Romans 6:23, Ezekiel 18:4). One day your physical body will die (Hebrews 9:27) and you will enter into eternity. We just don’t know when our day will come. In the book of James, it says, “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). This past weekend, there was a bus crash in rural Saskatchewan (not far from where I grew up) that claimed the lives of 15 people, most of whom were young men. I am certain that none of them woke up on Friday morning believing it would be their last day….yet it was.

 

As we look back on our lives, there have been times where we could have perished from this earth. But according to God’s sovereign purposes, we are still here today. It is only God’s grace that has preserved us. However, one day we will die and enter eternity. We might be old and full of years, or we might be young with seemingly many years in front of us. Whatever the case, the only way to be prepared for death is to be reconciled to God (2 Corinthians 5:20). In short, you must repent of your sins and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ (Mark 1:15). The Scriptures make it clear it is only the Lord Jesus Christ that can save you (John 14:6, Acts 4:12). The Bible also teaches that our salvation is not due to any merit or worth of our own, but wholly of grace and must be received through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

Twelve years ago, when I thought I was going to die, I cried out to God and He saved me. However, one day I will die……and you will too. The question is – are you ready to meet your Maker? Have you been forgiven of your sins and granted new life in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)? Be encouraged because if you haven’t, it is not too late. There is no magic formula as to what you need to say, but if you are genuine, there will be a sense of desperation. You will cry out “God save me from my sins!” You will acknowledge that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is the only way for you to be saved and forgiven. And you will express a desire to follow Christ and be his disciple (Matthew 28:18-20) for the rest of your days.

 

Praise God for the salvation we have in Christ! Praise God that in the midst of a world filled with pain and suffering, where vast multitudes are looking for answers, we have hope! May you look to Christ (Hebrews 12:2) and the salvation that only He can bring.

The Simplicity of Evangelism

A few days ago Steph and I were watching our favorite series of missions videos called Dispatches From the Front when something really caught my attention. The host Tim Keesee was traveling around the country of Albania looking at how the gospel is advancing in a big way – praise God! He mentioned how one of the pastors used a simple strategy to reach people for Christ. Here’s how it goes:

  1. Pray
  2. Meet people
  3. Tell them about Jesus

As I pondered this, I was struck by the simplicity of it all. Pastors and church leaders today are bombarded by “how-to” methods and strategies to plant churches, evangelize, disciple, and grow existing churches. We have more books and more information on how to “do church” than ever before, but most would agree that the church is weak and anemic and in need of revival.

A few questions come to mind: Are we complicating the biblical mandate to go and reach the lost, preaching the gospel of grace? Are we relying more on strategies and fads than trusting the power of prayer? Have we shied way from developing new relationships with people and fostering already existing friendships? And have we become tongue-tied when it comes to telling people the glorious gospel of Christ? I fear the answer to these questions is probably “yes” for most of us including myself.

I trust this will give us all a little food for thought. “Knowing Christ” (Philippians 3:8) is far and away the greatest thing in the world and we are not meant to keep the good news to ourselves. May we be like the two blind men Jesus healed in Matthew 9:31: “They went away and spread his fame through all that district.”  Amen!

Was Christ’s Death Just an Inspiring Example?

John Stott: “the death of Jesus is more than an inspiring example. If this was all there is to it, much of what we find in the Gospels would make no sense. There are those strange sayings, for instance, in which Jesus said he would ‘give his life as a ransom for many’ and shed his blood….. ‘for the forgiveness of sins’. There is no redemption in an example. A pattern cannot secure our pardon.

Besides, why was he weighed down with such heavy and anxious apprehension as the cross approached? How shall we explain the dreadful agony in the garden, his tears and cries and bloody sweat? ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Again, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’ Was the ‘cup’ that he hesitated to drink from the symbol of death by crucifixion? Was he then afraid of pain and death? If so, his example may have been one of submission and patience, but it was hardly one of courage. Plato tells us that Socrates drank his cup of hemlock in the prison cell in Athens ‘quite readily and cheerfully.’ Was Socrates braver than Jesus? Or is it that their cups contained different poisons? And what is the meaning of the darkness, and the cry of abandonment, and the tearing from top to bottom of the Temple curtain in front of the Holy of Holies? There is no way of understanding these things if Jesus died only as an example. Indeed some of them would seem to make his example less commendable.

Not only would much in the Gospels remain mysterious if Christ’s death were purely an example, but our human need would remain unsatisfied. We need more than an example; we need a Savior. An example can stir our imagination, kindle our idealism and strengthen our resolve, but it cannot remove the stains of our past sins, bring peace to our troubled conscience or restore our relationship with God.

In any case, the apostles leave us in no doubt about the matter. They repeatedly associate Christ’s coming and death with our sins:

Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18).

You know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins (1 John 3:5).

Here are the three great writers of the New Testament, the apostles Paul, Peter and John unanimous in linking his death with our sins.”

Quoted from pages 109-110 of John Stott’s classic Basic Christianity, (2008).

Have you met the Man who does all things well?

“He has done all things well. He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark 6:37

 

I have never met a man who does “all things well.” We have a lot of men in our church that could be classified as “Jack of all trades” because they are gifted in so many different ways, but I have never met a man or woman who did all things well. That is, until I met Jesus. The man Jesus Christ is unique in all of world history. There is no one else like him. He is Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer of all things and He wants to rescue your life from the pit.

 

Friend, have you met this man who does all things well? Let me tell you right now that when you meet this man, you won’t be able to stop blabbing about him. You will be like the people in Mark 7 – you won’t be able to shut up. You will be telling all your friends and neighbors and family about Jesus. Like the woman at the well in John 4, you will say, “come meet a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29). He is the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world.

 

Our greatest need as human beings is to be forgiven of our sin. I guess you could say that goes along with knowing Jesus. Until we meet this Man who does all things well, we tend to think highly of ourselves. We tend to compare ourselves with others and when we do that we end up looking pretty good. But when we encounter the Light, as He is in the light, we are exposed. We end up seeing how wretched and sinful we really are, as we stand before a just and holy God.

 

But let me tell you what Jesus will do for you. He will take your wretchedness and your sinfulness and cover you with the garments of salvation. He will take your ugly, messed up life and make you beautiful. How? By giving you His own righteousness. “Though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18) This is the most amazing transaction in the world, and God will do it for you.

 

So what must you do to be saved? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 16:31), repent of your sins and trust Him for your salvation. Then, having met this Man, you too will say, “He has done all things well.”

Telling Our Faith Stories

One thing we don’t do enough of as Christians is to tell our faith stories to one another. What I mean by “faith stories” is quite simple – stories that communicate God’s faithfulness and sufficiency to meet our every need. I think there are at least two reasons for this. First, we aren’t stepping out in faith and trusting God so we simply don’t have any. And second, we are fearful that if we tell them, it will sound prideful on our part. We fear that if we tell the story, it will come across as if we are trying to gain glory from it. Let me affirm that our testimony as Christians should be centered upon the message of the gospel (1 John 1:1-4), but at the same time our testimony should be backed up by evidences of God’s faithfulness in the here and now (Acts 12:17). A couple weeks ago, I decided to tell one of these faith stories to our church. What follows is an account.  

 

Several years ago, I believed that God was calling me to attend a conference. At the time, I was in seminary in Vancouver and the conference was in Atlanta. If you know your geography, you will know that that’s a long trip and it would have to be by airplane – so I booked a flight. I also booked a hotel that was pretty close to where the conference would be. Now, given my flight times, I would have to stay three nights, but I only booked a hotel for the middle night. It sounds foolish but that is just how I felt God was leading me. I would have to trust God to provide accommodations for the other nights. There was also another thing that would have to be of faith. At the time, I wasn’t yet 25 and if you want to rent a car, you need to be 25 or older (maybe this has changed by now). And I didn’t have the money to hire a taxi take me all over the place so both transportation and my accommodations for two nights would have to be “by faith.”

 

As this trip approached I was starting to get concerned about how everything would come together. But the week before I left, as I was telling one of my friends about the trip and some of the details, he said that his wife’s brother was in university in Atlanta. I can’t remember how it all came together, I just remember this guy agreed to pick me up at the airport and then take me to the conference the next day. Coupled with that, another one of my seminary friends said he had a pastor friend in Atlanta who was attending the same conference I was attending. He gave me his cell number and once again, this connection would prove to be vital.

 

So off I went to attend this conference. My flight arrived at midnight the night before the conference started and just as planned my friend’s wife’s brother (sounds funny doesn’t it?) picked me up, and I stayed overnight with him and his little family. Early the next morning, he drove me to the conference about a half hour away. It’s amazing to me, but that’s the only contact I have ever had with him. God placed him in my life for that very short time and I have never talked to him again.

 

I attended the first day of the conference, and quite frankly, the conference was a disappointment. I could tell you more about it but I think the Lord had me there for other reasons. The theme of this trip was – faith.

 

After the first day ended, somehow, I was able to find transportation to the hotel I had booked. I had a good nights sleep but there was no “resting easy” in the sense that I knew the next morning I would have to find someone to drive me to the conference center. I could only rest in the knowledge that God would care of everything. The next morning, yet again, the Lord provided free transportation to the conference. A coincidence? I think not.

 

During the second day of the conference I was able to connect with my other friend’s friend who was a pastor. I didn’t have a cell phone so I think I was just borrowing other people’s cell phones but eventually I got a hold of him and we found each other and really hit it off. After the conferenced was over I was privileged to spend some time with the staff of his church and they took me out for a fancy meal and then ice cream afterward. By now, you won’t be surprise, but my new friend asked if I would like to stay overnight at his place. Of course I agreed, and after a short sleep he took me to the airport first thing in the morning (like 4am) for me to catch my flight home.

 

There is more that I could tell you about that trip but I think you get the picture. Just like the Christian life, this trip was all about faith. I remember when I first told that story to my wife (we were dating at the time) – she thought I was crazy! After six years of marriage, she now knows that without a doubt, but as I look back on that whole experience, I see God’s hand. Simply put – He took care of me. Not having transportation and accommodations was no barrier too difficult for God (Job 42:2).

 

My wife and I could tell many more stories of God’s faithfulness in our lives (you may have already heard some of them). But as the apostle Paul reminds us, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17). Paul also tells us, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19). God must get all the glory! Let me encourage you to tell your faith stories, and to tell them often, but do so in a way that honors God. The orientation of faith is always off of self and onto God. Telling these stories will remind others that God is faithful and trustworthy. So go ahead – tell your story!      

The Apologetic of a Transformed Life

I once read the story of a pastor who was invited to debate an atheist. The pastor agreed to debate on one condition – that the atheist would bring 50 people who had been transformed by being atheists. The pastor in turn would bring 50 people who had been transformed by the power of Jesus Christ. As you may have guessed, the atheist admitted he would not be able to find that many people impacted by rejecting Christian theism.

 

As you seek to give an answer for the hope that is within you (1 Peter 3:15), please don’t forget about the power of testimony. Please don’t forget about what Christ has done in your own life, but also in the lives of millions upon millions of people the world over. Like the blind man healed by Jesus, we can confidently say as Christians, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). It is only Jesus Christ who has the power to transform and heal our sin-sick lives. By all means, we must seek to present a rational defense of the Christian faith, just don’t forget that there is a place for testimony in our apologetics.

 

No one has ever been transformed by rejecting the existence of God. But millions upon millions of people have been transformed by the rescuing power of Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures remind us, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:17-18). So lets get to work, telling the world what Christ has done for us.

What People Believe About Hell

According to a recent poll (June 6, 2013), “56 percent of Americans surveyed believe in the devil, 53 percent believe in hell and 43 percent believe in hell as “a place of suffering and punishment where people go after they die”. Some might think these numbers are low, but it is quite remarkable that more people believe in hell than don’t believe in hell. The only explanation for this is Christianity’s influence on the culture. The other side of the coin is as follows: “An equal amount of respondents (38 percent) believe that people who commit violent criminal acts go to hell as well as those who don’t ask God’s forgiveness for their sins before they die. Greater than 61 percent of respondents believe they’re going to heaven, while only 1.5 percent believe they will go to hell.” So while most people believe in hell, almost nobody (1.5 percent) thinks they are going there. Of course this doesn’t surprise us. If a person has a notion of heaven and hell, chances are they believe they are going to heaven.

In short, Christian’s have been successful in helping people see that hell is real, but unsuccessful in helping people see that apart from Christ, they are headed there. Back in the day, hellfire and brimstone preachers made a name for themselves by focusing on God’s judgment. In my estimation, most preachers today focus on God’s love with little or even no mention of God’s judgment. The Bible speaks of both and if we are going to be faithful to our calling as preachers, we must preach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Jesus spoke more about hell than everyone else in the Bible combined and did not shy away from speaking about the consequences for those who reject God’s gracious offer of salvation. So whether we are preaching, doing personal evangelism, or counseling a friend, let’s not shy away from speaking the truth about God, and the consequences of rejecting Christ.