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.

Celebrating the New Birth

 

August is a big month for our family when it comes to birthdays. Our 3 oldest were born in August and it also happens to be Steph’s birthday. The kids are already telling us what they want even though we still have another 6 months before our big birthday month comes around again.

I got to thinking…..why are birthdays such a big deal? Most people and most cultures all over the world tend to recognize and celebrate the day of our birth – but why? I think it is because we recognize that life is special and that each year (even each day) is a gift – something we can be thankful for. As Christians we know that God is the giver of life and that remarkably, He numbers our days (Psalm 139:16).

 

If you are like most people in terms of recognizing and celebrating birthdays, that’s awesome! Keep it up. But I also want to remind you that if you are a Christian, that means you have another birthday that is infinitely more important. The Bible says that believers have been “born again to a living hope!” (1 Peter 1:3). Perhaps you don’t know the exact day of your salvation, but if you are truly in Christ, then you, my friend, have reason to celebrate! I live and minister in Pennsylvania and as most of you are aware the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl last Sunday night. People here in Pennsylvania got pretty excited about it. People in Philly got really excited about it! To be sure, it was a great game, but in the whole scheme of things, it’s not that important. 50 years from now few people will remember or care that the Eagles won the Super bowl. In contrast to that, the new birth is truly worth celebrating. Consider the following verses:

 

“my soul will rejoice in the Lord, exulting in his salvation.” Psalm 35:9

“This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” Isaiah 25:9

“I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.” Habakkuk 3:18

“do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20

“Just so, I (Jesus) tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents that over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Luke 15:7

 

Salvation, as you can see, is a big deal. One day these mortal bodies of ours will die and be no more. There will be no more birthday parties, no more birthday cakes, and no more opening birthday gifts. But if you have been “born again” (see John 3:3) that means you have been forgiven of your sins, justified before God, granted eternal life, and been given the indwelling Holy Spirit. More than that, you have fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus Christ – you are a friend of God! If you want a reason to celebrate…..then celebrate the new life you have in Christ. Praise God for sending us a Savior and praise God for the miracle of salvation!

 

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.” Titus 3:4-7

 

The Shame of the Gospel

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16

Let’s make an assumption here. The apostle Paul would not have said these words if he didn’t feel there was reason to be ashamed. If there were nothing shameful about the gospel, then it would be pointless to make such a statement. In all reality, the gospel will always be considered “shameful” by the world. Why do I say that?

1. The Gospel tells me I am a sinner.

No one wants to be told they are a sinner, but that’s what the Bible tells us (Romans 3). If we don’t understand that we are sinners who have broken God’s law, we will never come to see our need for Christ.

2. The Gospel tells us there is only one way to heaven.

Postmodernism has taught us quite the opposite – that there are many ways to heaven and many ways to God – you just have to pick your vehicle to heaven.

It’s tough to respond to that, isn’t it? I can remember sharing the gospel with a friend of mine several years ago. After I was done, he told me – “that’s great Dan that Christianity works for you, but it doesn’t work for me.” That kind of response is quite common today. To affirm the exclusivity of Christ does not sit well with most people.

3. The Gospel tells us that a man was and is God.

For 2000 years, scores of people have found it shameful to say that Jesus was God incarnate – God in the flesh.  But that’s what the Bible tells us – “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). As Christians, we affirm that Jesus was fully God and fully man. It is precisely because of that that Jesus could be Redeemer.

4. The Gospel tells us that one day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ.

This is another tough one for modern man to accept. We have come to believe that we are not accountable to anyone and no one has a right to judge us – even God. But the bible teaches that everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ where we will give an account for everything we have ever done. Our only hope will be the mediating work of Jesus Christ. If you can’t say the blood of Jesus has covered your sin, God will hold you to account.

5. The Gospel tells us that we can’t work our way to heaven.

It is only natural to think that we should be rewarded for our efforts. For example, if we have worked for many years at our job, we expect that eventually we should be rewarded with an adequate pension or retirement plan. We have paid our dues and now it’s only fair that we are rewarded accordingly. Once again, however, the Gospel message is opposed to such thinking.  No matter how hard we work and how much good we think we’ve done, it’s never enough (Isaiah 64:6). The only way we can be saved is by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit and by trusting in the finished work of Christ. We must accept that the infinite merit of Christ is enough to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. And we must realize that our own performance could never be enough before that same just and holy God.

6. The Gospel teaches us that the wisdom of man is foolishness to God and that the strength of man is weakness to God.

We want to be seen as wise. We want to put our knowledge and learning on display. We want to be strong. We want to be successful. And on and on it goes. But the Bible teaches that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor. 1:25) Sinful man does not want to admit that all his wisdom and understanding is foolishness to God. In our prideful hearts, we find that shameful.

7. The Gospel tells us that we need to repent of our sins and believe in Christ for our salvation.

Modern man would like to think he is autonomous – that we don’t need anyone, much less God. We’d like to sing along with Simon and Garfunkel, “I am a rock; I am an island.” So when we hear a message that demands humility and surrender, you can bet that that message will viewed as shameful and foolish and ultimately rejected. But the Gospel tells us that we need Jesus Christ. There is no other way to be saved from our sin. God made provision for our need through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So….. “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  (1 Cor. 1:18) We might as well accept that the world views the Gospel message as sheer foolish. However, if you are a true believer, you will glory in the message of the cross. You will glory and rejoice in the gift of God, which is eternal life (Romans 6:23). The solution is not to downplay the shame of the gospel, but to preach it faithfully and pray that God would own the eyes of the blind and rescue the souls of those who are perishing.

Is There a Biblical Significance to Age 30?

This Saturday is my 30th birthday. For the last 20 years or so, my birthday has never been a big deal to me and I don’t expect that to change this year. However, over the past few weeks I have been thinking about the biblical significance of age 30. Let me give you a few examples:

– Joseph was 30 years old when he became second in command to Pharaoh, after being in prison as a slave in Egypt (Genesis 41:46).

– The priests officially entered service at age 30 (Numbers 4:3).

– Saul became King when he was 30 years old (1 Samuel 13:1).

– David became King when he was 30 years old (2 Samuel 5:4).

– Ezekiel was called by God as a prophet at age 30 (Ezekiel 1:1).

– Jesus officially started his ministry at age 30 (Luke 3:23).

So is there a biblical significance to age 30? In short, yes and no. The second example (priestly ministry) offers the most compelling evidence in favor of saying yes. After having a 5-year internship (Numbers 8:24), the priests began a 20-year ministry, lasting from age 30 to 50 (Numbers 4:3). Jesus, our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14) followed this pattern in order to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:13-15).

On the other hand, as we read through the Scriptures we see people of all ages being used of God. The fact is it doesn’t matter what age you are. If you have a heart to serve God, He will put you to work. Ten years ago, I never could have dreamed all that God had in store for my life. And as I look ahead to the next decade of my life, I can only imagine what God will do. How old are you? It really doesn’t matter – 20, 40, 60, 80? It all starts with having faith in Jesus Christ and trusting Him for salvation – after that, the possibilities are endless. God can and will use you for the glory of His great name.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Loved By God

Every Christian knows that love is important. The Scriptures are full of love verses and perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible, John 3:16, is an example of this. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” What I want to explore is the question – how does love become a reality in the life of a believer? We know that God is love (1 John 4:8), but how does that love begin to manifest itself in the life of the Christian? I would like to suggest that it is a process that follows a somewhat predictable pattern. What follows is not intended to be a rigid list, but is more of an outline. As God’s love fills our lives, we can expect this 4-step process to happen in our lives.

1. Experiencing the Love of God

What an amazing thing to think that the Creator of the universe knows me and loves me. Have you ever stopped to ponder that? Because I am “in Christ,” God actually likes me. God is fond of me. God calls me His friend. God will never leave me nor forsake me because I am His child. This blows me away.

Many people have a hard time believing that God could ever love them. They know their past and they know they are a sinner. They are also aware that God is holy and just and cannot simply “wink” at sin and pretend everything is ok. Of course, the solution to this dilemma is the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through the electing grace of God, every believer is clothed with the righteousness of Christ. How can God love us? Because the blood of Christ covers our sins and we become a child of God.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31-32) You mean God is actually for me? You mean God is actually pleased with me? God loves me? Yes, yes, and yes!

When we start to understand the love of God, it tends to overwhelm us. We can never fully understand it, but as we begin to comprehend the redeeming love of God, we can’t help but be amazed. God was not required to rescue us…..but He did, by His grace. Praise God. Praise God. Praise God.

There are people who have faithfully attended church for decades who have never come to know or experience the love of the Savior. They are committed to doing what they can to please God and to “do things for God” but they have never come to understand or experience the love of God. Unfortunately, all their striving and toiling will count for nothing at the end of the day. The bible tells us, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” (Isaiah 64:6) In other words, they are disgusting. Why we would ever think God would be pleased with us, apart from the perfect righteousness of Christ? So first, we must come to know and experience the love of God, in Christ.

2. Loving God 

The Bible says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God’s love always precedes our love. Keep in mind that loving God is not simply a matter of doing our best to keep the moral law. Some people think that if they don’t perform up to par, God will not accept them. It’s always our default position to think that if we do our best to please God, He will love us in return, and grant us acceptance into His kingdom. However, this is not a biblical understanding.

Ephesians 2:4-5 explains this amazing reality. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved.” Here we see that God’s love always precedes our love. Cleary, that which is “dead” cannot love. But as the Spirit of God fills our lives, we begin to experience the love of our Heavenly Father. Over time this love begins to be reciprocated. We gradually fall in love with the One who saved us. We can actually say (and mean it) I love God.

Clearly, love is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. Just as we continue to grow more and more in love with our spouse, so too do we grow in our love for God. It’s true that we are commanded to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37) But I don’t think anyone would say they have fully mastered this. It is a process that God performs in our lives over months and years and decades. God turns our self-centered, world-focused hearts towards Himself, so that our affections and desires are rightly directed. Gradually, we begin to love God in place of the world and ourselves. Let’s praise God for this amazing work of grace in our lives!

3. Loving our Fellow Christians

If we truly love God and are born of God, it will result in loving our fellow Christians. As 1 John 4:20-21 explains, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.” In using “brother,” the apostle John simply means a fellow Christian. What this tells us is that there are certain outcomes we can expect to see when we truly love God, and this is one of them. We are deluded if we claim to love God, yet fail to love and serve our brother in Christ.

Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) This is a remarkable statement. Instead of trying to take advantage of one another, disciples of Jesus will strive to love and serve one another. The world can’t help but take notice of this.

The apostle Paul expands on this by listing several ways we can serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection. Out do one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” (Romans 12:10-13) It’s safe to say, we have a high calling as Christians. We are responsible not only to God, but also to the saints in Christ. Our love for God will manifest itself in love for fellow Christians, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Does this mean that love among the brethren is where the love stops? You already know the answer to that question. As Paul writes, “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) Simply put: do good to everyone, especially our brothers in Christ.

4. Loving the World Around Us

Part of “loving the world around us” is sharing the greatest news in the world with them. The apostle Paul is a good example of this. He writes, “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:4-5) This is the gospel in a nutshell. Paul could have kept it to himself, but he didn’t. He chose to share what was so graciously delivered to him – the good news of Jesus Christ.

The people of God are spread out all over the world, which means we live among the heathen. Whether at work or home, there are non-Christians around you. This is not something to be fearful of, but something to embrace. God has placed you in a particular context for a reason and He will use you, if only you are willing. All too often, Christians cut themselves off from the outside world. They are not willing to do the hard (and sometimes messy) work of building relationships with those around them. This means they won’t have the opportunity to share the love of God, which is very unfortunate.

If you are a follower of Christ, that means someone in your life loved you enough to share the gospel with you. We can praise God for sending messengers into our lives – people who were willing to tell us the truth about God, man, sin, and salvation. My question for you is this – are you willing to be a messenger of truth? The bible teaches that it is not the messenger who does the saving – that’s God’s work. But if you are willing, God will use you as a bearer of good news. “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:15)

There are many ways we can love and serve our neighbors. I want to in every way encourage this. But perhaps the most loving thing you can do is to share Jesus Christ with the world around you. After all, it is only Christ who can save us from the power of death and it’s only Christ who gives us the hope of eternal life. You have a unique circle of friends, family members, co-workers, and neighbors, which means you have a unique opportunity. It’s not an accident you are where you are today. Why not pass on the truth that was so graciously delivered to you?

And so we see, what starts with experiencing the love of God, manifests in us loving those around us. As God transforms our lives, we begin to love our neighbor as ourself. Why not spread the love?

Get Behind the Work of Missions!

This past week at Waverly Alliance Church, we had our annual missions conference. We were privileged to have one of our C&MA missionaries join us for a few days. George Nuss has been serving in the country of Guinea (West Africa) for over 20 years now and has no plans of retiring any time soon. He shared many stories of the great work God is doing in that country and he also shared of an exciting new project he is involved in – translating the Old Testament into the Fulani (or Pular) language. After over 25 years, the New Testament was recently completed and published in the Fulani language, but much work remains to be done on the Old Testament. We were thrilled to hear of this opportunity, and we know George and his team will need our prayers.

I often tell our church that there are two primary reasons we support missions. First, because we know salvation is found in Christ alone (Acts 4:12, John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5, Romans 10:13). And second, because we know not everyone has heard the gospel message (Romans 10:14-17). Therefore, we must go! And as I reminded our church this past Sunday, its not just about crossing cultures and seas, it’s also about crossing the street to our lost neighbors and friends. Supporting the work of missions does involve giving and praying for cross-cultural missionaries, but it’s also about “being” the missionaries God has called us to be (Matthew 28:19-20) wherever you are.

Let me encourage you to get behind the work of missions. I fear that there is a decreasing sense of urgency in our churches. The remedy for this is to be awakened to the reality of life and death, heaven and hell, acceptance (in Christ) and judgment (in Adam). Many professing Christian’s don’t believe that those apart from Christ are truly lost. But I pray that you will see the need of the hour and do whatever you can to support missions.

Conversing With a Jewish Man

Last week I found myself in New Haven, Connecticut, home to Yale University. One day while walking downtown, I was approached by a man who asked me a very simple question – “Are you Jewish?” I responded, “No I’m not.” And that was pretty much the end of our brief encounter. I kept on walking but before too long, curiosity got the better of me. Why did he ask me that, I wondered? Do I look Jewish? I turned around and headed back. I needed some answers.

DS: Excuse me sir, why did you want to know if I was Jewish?

JM (Jewish man): Well, if you had said yes, I would have told you a little about your faith.

DS: Let’s just say, for fun, I had told you I was Jewish, what would have told me about Judaism?

JM: I would have told you that you need to keep the law.

DS: The 10 Commandments?

JM: Actually, we have 613 laws that we are to keep.

DS: Do you know all 613 laws by heart?

JM: Hesitates to answer

DS: What if I told you that I’m a bad guy who thinks bad thoughts, says bad things, and sins every day.

JM: I would say you need to try harder and do a better job of keeping the law.

DS: Yes, but how do I know when I’m “good enough” at keeping the law?

I finally told him that I was a Christian. I told him that I (and everyone else) need a Mediator who has already fulfilled the demands of the law of God because no matter how hard I tried I could never fully keep the law. I told him that it’s only through faith in Jesus Christ and His perfect sacrifice that a person can be forgiven of their sins and accepted before God. Not surprisingly, he told me that he did not accept the New Testament teachings about Jesus.

For a couple more minutes, I shared the gospel with him and did my best to show him that Jesus is the Messiah, and that salvation is only through Him (John 14:6, 1 Timothy 2:5). As I shared, he was very quiet and it became clear that he did not want the conversation to continue, so we parted ways.

This dialogue did not at all surprise me. This man was not a Messianic Jew and therefore, rejects Jesus as the Son of God and the path to salvation. So our conversation did not surprise me but it did remind me that it’s all about Jesus. The most important question in the world is – what do you believe about Jesus? Do you accept Him as God’s provision for man’s need or do you reject Him? I can only hope and pray that this Jewish man will come to saving faith and see his need for Jesus, but he must understand that his acceptance before God is not through his own ability to keep the law.

As you well know, it’s not just Jews who reject Jesus. I often encounter people who are ok with God, but they have a problem with Jesus. But the Bible tells us there is no other way. “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Friends, it’s all about Jesus. You can’t be “ok with God” and still reject His Son. Jesus said, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before me, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).

It’s all about Jesus.