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.

Finding the Gospel in the Story of David and Goliath

When we read a bible story such as David and Goliath, we want to think of ourselves as being like David, don’t we? We like to think of ourselves as underdogs in this big bad world who have the courage and ingenuity to defeat anyone that comes against us. In our family library, we have dozens of children’s bible books and they all seem to feature this story. After all, it is a classic and kids love it. Even our 3-year-old daughter Elizabeth was reading the story of David and Goliath to her “baby” just the other day. But most of these children’s books end up having the wrong application. Most of them end up saying – you can do anything you want if you just set your mind to it – you can beat the giants of this world. That’s the kind of message that the reader is left with and it’s the same message kids get in the public school system. The problem is, it’s a message void of the gospel.

 

Some time ago, it was refreshing to encounter something different as I was reading the Gospel Story Bible to our kids. The author, Marty Machowski, suggested that we are more like the Israelite soldiers than we are like David. If you remember near the beginning of the story, Goliath said, “I defy the ranks of Israel this day. Give me a man that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard these words, they were dismayed and greatly afraid” (1 Samuel 17:10-11). Isn’t it true that when our enemies and the storms of life come our way, more often than not we are fearful, dismayed, and anything but courageous? It would be great if we could all say we were like David and met the enemies of life head on but that’s usually not true.

 

What we need to hear is that there is a Hero who has come to save and rescue us from our plight. The enemies of life (namely, sin) are far too big for us to face alone. The Bible tells us that, “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Romans 5:6). Left to ourselves, we would be like the Israelite soldiers without David – hopeless and afraid. Thankfully, however, we have not been left to ourselves.

 

The shepherd boy David was actually what is often called a “type” of Christ. He wasn’t “the Christ” but he was a type of the One to come. Without David’s courage and faith, eventually Saul and the Israelite army would have succumbed to Goliath and the Philistines. But in their weakness and in their time of need, God used David in an incredible way. What is interesting is that as 1 and 2 Samuel unfold, we come to see that David was weak and sinful too, and was in need of the grace of God every bit as much as we are. And no matter what the circumstance – whether it be the highest high (defeating Goliath, military victories, his coronation as King, etc.) – or the lowest low (on the run from Saul, committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdering a Uriah, taking the census, etc.) David was in desperate need for the rescuing grace of God and for the most part, he knew this (see Psalm 51).

 

Friends, it’s not about us being like David. It’s not about us taking on a savior mentality and thinking we can defeat the enemy of sin and the other giants in our lives. We can’t! Therefore, we must look to the One who can. We must look to Christ. True faith forces us to look away from self, and unto God. Two thousand years ago Jesus died on the cross and He paid the price for our sins. He bore the wrath of God (1 Peter 2:24) and the Scripture tells us that by His stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). Apart from Christ, we would just be like those Israelite soldiers – fearful, afraid, hopeless, purposeless, and weak. Maybe for some of you, that’s where you are at today and you need to humble yourself before God. But the gospel tells us that if you have Christ in your life, all of that changes. The weak become strong, the lost are found, the blind can see, the orphans are adopted, the timid become courageous, and those who are weeping shout for joy! That’s what God does for the humble at heart – for those who admit their need for Christ. You see, it’s only when we have Christ in our lives that we can be like David, courageously facing the giants of life.

 

“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:57).

Not Ashamed

“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew and then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

There is a gospel that is being preached today, but it is not the true gospel. It’s not that everything about this gospel is inaccurate, but it’s just not the “whole” gospel. And when you preach a half gospel, you are not really preaching the gospel at all (Galatians 1:6-7). This gospel offers a God who is loving, but not demanding; a God who gives “Your best life now,” a God who is simple, light, fun, engaging, and uplifting, but not the Lord of the universe; a God who can give a band-aid to any problem; but not the One who can truly transform your life. So the question that begs an answer is why has the Gospel been adjusted? The reason is that many churches and Christian leaders today are “ashamed of the gospel.”

We are very aware that the world finds the gospel offensive. Christianity makes exclusive claims even though we live in a very inclusive world. To claim that Jesus Christ is the only way to be saved from your sins is not a very attractive message in our post-modern world, but that’s what the Bible teaches. We are also aware that generally speaking, our churches are declining and do not hold the same influence they once held. So with an unpopular message and sagging attendance figures, church leaders have felt the pressure to adjust the message and adapt it to our changing world. Many churches reasoned that they had no other option – either we change or face extinction.

In my estimation church leaders have over-estimated the importance of the methods and means of communicating the gospel and underestimated the importance of the message itself. I am not suggesting methods and means are not important, but they are secondary to the message of the gospel. We have to remember that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes in Jesus. If Jesus Christ is Lord of the world then that means He is also Lord of the Christian Church and we need to let Him do the work that only God can do. Our responsibility remains what it has always been – to preach the Word – to faithfully proclaim the gospel message, no matter how unpopular that message might be, and let God take care of the results.

“For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believed.” (1 Corinthians 1:21)

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.

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.

Jesus Paid It All

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

 

In this one verse, the essence of the gospel is explained. To all those who would believe upon His name, Jesus became our substitute through his death on the cross. God the Father determined that Jesus, His Son, would absorb the wrath of God in our place. On top of that, the believer is given the righteousness of Christ. This is what theologians sometimes refer to as double imputation. God’s wrath is imputed unto Christ; Christ’s righteousness is imputed unto the believer.

 

If this all sounds too good to be true, you’re right – it is. No one is deserving of God’s grace and mercy. No one deserves to be forgiven of their sin. No one deserves to have eternal life. “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” (Ephesians 2:4-5). This is the glory of the gospel.

 

As you reflect on the work of Christ this Easter weekend, do so with a sense of gratitude and wonder at the love of God. As the great hymn reminds us, “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe, sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.” Praise God!

Suffering For the Sake of the Gospel

This past Sunday I felt guilty. After being up much of the night suffering from a severe case of the cold, I was starting to feel sorry for myself. My wife will tell you that I am not very good at being sick and she will also tell you that all weekend I was not much fun to be around. But before I was able to wallow for very long in self-pity, the Lord taught me a lesson.

After a mostly sleepless night, I arrived at church and prepared to teach our Sunday school class. For this particular class, we watched part of a video teaching on the life of William Tyndale (1492-1536). I do not intend to recount Tyndale’s life, but I will say that he was a remarkable man. Even though very few Christian’s know about him, his influence spreads far and wide, especially in the English-speaking world. I would encourage you to research his life on your own.

The reason I make mention of this is because Tyndale suffered greatly. He was ultimately martyred for his anti-Catholic views. The last year of his life was particularly difficult, beyond anything we can even begin to imagine. Some people even left our Sunday school room in tears after hearing his story.

About an hour later in my sermon, I quoted the apostle Paul as he describes his suffering:

“Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was shipwreck at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

After reading this, I admitted to our congregation that I was feeling a little guilty at the time. Paul and Tyndale and countless others have suffer for the sake of the gospel. Yet all I was suffering from was a common cold – nothing major at all. I might also add that sickness is simply a natural result of the fall of man (Genesis 3), and not a result of suffering for the gospel. The pity party needed to stop and this was a good reality check for me.

Sometimes we are guilty of thinking that to be a “Christian” means we get a free pass from suffering. This is especially true of Christians in the Western world. But Paul didn’t think this way and neither should we. “For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaging in the same conflict that you saw I had and hear that I still have.” (Philippians 1:29) Paul knew that his Savior suffered and that he too would suffer. Why should we think any different?

But take comfort friend – suffering for the sake of the gospel is ultimately for our good. Paul writes, “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10) God will have His way in us and use our suffering for His good purposes (Romans 8:28). I hope and pray that we will come to the point where, like Peter and the apostles, we will be able to rejoice in being “counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41).

And so may we have the courage to stand for the truth no matter what it costs us.