Monday, May 23, 2016

In Christ: Redemption:Part 1

"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:" 
 Romans 3:24

  On our list of things found only "in Christ" we come to 'redemption'.  It's an interesting word with a very clear definition in scripture. The word 'redemption' is derived from the verb 'redeem' , and those two  words are so common  in the  law of Moses that a thorough citation of every instance would be both redundant and repetitive. But it is worth noting that there are a few different categories of redemption in the scriptures, and all of them are beautifully and marvelously fulfilled in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
 The clearest in-context definition of redemption is probably the one in Lev 25:25;"If thy brother be waxen poor, and hath sold away some of his possession, and if any of his kin come to redeem it, then shall he redeem that which his brother sold." In the verse  a man loses his possessions to poverty, and his brother is able to redeem, or 'buy back' those possession.  Leviticus 25 is full of provisions and restrictions and regulations on the idea of redemption in regards to lands and houses, but in  verses 48 and 49 , the Bible says "After that he is sold he may be redeemed again; one of his brethren may redeem him: Either his uncle, or his uncle's son, may redeem him, or any that is nigh of kin unto him of his family may redeem him; or if he be able, he may redeem himself.".  Redemption isn't just limited to tangible goods; people can be  redeemed, but while the need for redemption may not be limited; the ability to redeem is. Redemption can only be accomplished by a male relative but once performed , was binding upon the entire family.   The Bible refers to this as 'the right of redemption' or the 'right of inheritance' in several places, and this  figures heavily into the story of Ruth, among others.
 Generations before Ruth , however, God buys back the entire nation of Israel in Exodus 6 saying "Wherefore say unto the children of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will rid you out of their bondage, and I will redeem you with a stretched out arm, and with great judgments"   God lays claim  to their loyalty and their devotion and their obedience over and over again in scripture because of this single act of redemption.
  In the middle of all these proclamations regarding how and why and when things can be redeemed, God makes some things very clear.  In Psalm 49, the songwriter extols the limitations of human wealth, saying "They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: (For the redemption of their soul is precious, and it ceaseth for ever:)That he should still live for ever, and not see corruption. For he seeth that wise men die, likewise the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others. Their inward thought is, that their houses shall continue for ever, and their dwelling places to all generations; they call their lands after their own names. Nevertheless man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish.This their way is their folly: yet their posterity approve their sayings. Selah. Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah."  No matter how much money you have, that brother you redeemed has a claim on him that you cannot annul, the claim of the grave. Kings and beggars alike are bound by it, but God isn't and claims the exclusive ability to redeem from the tomb and he does so while redeeming the mans  soul.
  Before we jump into the New Testament, let's look at what we know so far.  We know that to redeem is to buy something back that was lost. We know that things can be redeemed as well as people, but that only a male relative can perform this function.  We know that only God can redeem a man from the grave.

  Now as interesting as all definition and word studies are, what does it all mean? How does it all apply? Part two is on its way.


Friday, May 13, 2016

"Maybe I'll Come Back as a Drop of Rain."

  One of our regularly scheduled church ventures  happens in downtown Brunswick Ga. The first Friday of the month, the town has a little mini-festival called, appropriately 'First Friday'. Sometimes there are  vendors, sometimes there is live music, but there is always street preaching.  In fact, we have been a part of the scenery there since the beginning and a year of consistent faithful gospel witnesses has produced some interesting results. I'd like to tell you about  one of them, and explain what I think is significant about the encounter.
  The first encounter of the night happened when, in the middle of preaching I  observed a young man standing quietly off to my right just a few feet away, smoking a cigarette and waiting to speak to me. 
He introduced himself as Josh and told me that he works at the pizza parlor across the street from where we preach. Now the people at the pizza place have very little use for our ministry but  this was the first time any of the employees had come and spoken to us.
  The first thing Josh wanted to let me know was that, for the last year or so, he has consistently heard us preach on that same corner, and as far as he could tell we had not wavered in our message one iota.  He claimed to be a church kid, and a former worship leader at some church there in Brunswick.  He claimed to be familiar with the gospel. He told me "I believe in Jesus and all that, but this isn't the way to do it."
  I gave him my standard answer about the necessity of public evangelism as a fulfillment of the scriptures, and he just sort of nodded. He reiterated his disagreement with  our methods, though he claimed to be in alignment with our message.  He could even explain our message to me, having heard it proclaimed countless times at his place of employment.  He just didn't like our preaching.
  I always find that position interesting, so I asked him if he were to die where would he spend eternity.  He avoided the question, telling me how disappointed his generation was towards church and towards God, and how people like me are making things worse. I pressed forward, asking him "I'm not talking about your entire generation. I'm talking about you.  If you die, right now, what happens to you? What happens to Josh?"
  "Maybe I'll come back as a drop of rain.  I don't know."
  I have to admit, I wasn't expecting that.  I turned my banner a bit so that he could see the picture of Christ crucified and asked him "Then why did THIS happen?"
  "Oh sure, man, I mean I believe Jesus died to save us.."
  "Save you from what? From becoming a drop of rain?"
  He nodded and stared at my sign. "Yeah I see your point, but I'm just sayin', man, that people don't want you out here, you know?"
  "That's unfortunate, but it really does change anything.  But let's get back to you. You claimed to agree with what we're doing, but then..the whole raindrop thing."
  "Ok, yeah, but, it's like this, right? The Bible was written by men." He sort of leaned back like he had just dropped the most profound statement ever in my lap.
  "But you told me you believed in Jesus."
 "Yeah, I'm all about him."
  "The only way you ever heard of Jesus was from a Bible."
 "But you don't believe the Bible that told you about him? I'm confused."
  "Well the Bible was written by God, but has been twisted by men."
  "Sure, but so what?"
  "So many people they just  believe what some guy tells them about the Bible, and they dont read it for themselves."
  "Do you read it for yourself?"
 "" An awkward silence prevailed for a bit. He cleared his throat and  took a hit off his cigarette.
  "Ok, Josh, look, for a year you've heard us , right?"
  "And we've never pointed you or anyone else towards us or towards our church."
 "I've never told you you had to work your way to heaven. I've never given you a bunch  of rules to follow."
 "We've just mentioned Jesus Christ over and over again as the only cure for sin."
  "And you agree with that?"
 "Oh yeah, man.  I told you I grew up in church."
 I must have had a puzzled look on my face. "So what exactly is the problem?"
 He gestured around "I'm just sayin', everybody out here isn't on board with all this, you know?"
"I am aware of this, yes."
 "That's all I'm sayin'."
  "But you can't speak for everybody here. You can only speak to you. So do you, Josh, know for sure that your sins are forgiven?"

  We covered a lot of the same ground three or four more times before Ken Seremak tried to make some sense of what he was saying.  A few minutes later I found myself engaged in a conversation with another young man (a story for another time) but what I took away from all that is this; the message we proclaim is simple and easily understood and by the testimony of people opposed to it is remarkably consistent. We don't preach the flavor of the month of the philosophy of the day, we preach Christ, and him crucified. We preach repentance towards God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We preach sin, righteousness and judgment to come.  We have done that week in and week out and the testimony isn't hat we've  had a huge harvest of souls. The testimony is that everybody knows exactly what we're all about.
 Allow me to encourage you , fellow public minister. When you think nobody is listening, everybody is listening.

Monday, May 2, 2016

" I Don't Care What That Bible Says"

  This time of year, I  really have my choice of preaching venues, and usually the choice boils down to this; I can  make a 12 hour drive to Memphis Tennessee and preach with  several dozen of my dear brothers in the ministry at the Beale Street Blast ( an event I highly recommend), or I can drive 45 minutes down the road and help out a faithful man who labors alone most of the time. I chose the short drive this year.
  As a result I found myself, along with my faithful partner, and 3 of my kids at the 53rd Annual Shrimp Festival. We were there to assist  a man named Charlie who, as I said before, works these events by himself most of the time.
  As you can see from the picture, the crowd was pretty decent, and we were located maybe 30 or 40 feet away from the nearest vendor booth. We took our position and began preaching. Some people stopped and talked to us, lots of people took our picture, and some even thanked us for our presence.
  While I was preaching a man approached Charlie, and began to talk to him. I figured to myself, Charlie's got this, and I continued on. I saw the man grab Charlie's sign and begin to shake it. Charlie looked back at me and said "Brother Mike, I'll take over, can you talk to this guy?"
  The man was  probably in his  late 60's heavyset, with a Panama hat and a  button up shirt festooned with the festival logo.  Charlie took up the mantle and began preaching while I tried to talk to the man. Below is my best recollection of the conversation that followed.

 "Yes sir, what can I do for you?"
  "Listen, I'm a veteran, and I understand what you're trying to do here. I want you to know that.  I am not opposed to what you are doing here, I'm not against what you are doing here. I'm a retired minister myself.  But, you need to do it quieter."
  "If we did it quieter nobody could hear us."
  "Listen, this is a festival.  And the vendors here have spent a lot of money to be here, and you're hurting business."
 "Well, I get your point, my wife is actually manning a booth at a separate festival, and.."
 "Sir, you don't need to yell at me."
 By now he is jabbing his  finger into my chest to make his point.
 As a quick note, let me say that ,  although sometimes this might be a valid concern, I had been carefully watching vendor activity all around us, and I can honestly say that traffic didn't even slow down the entire time we were there. We were far enough back to where we were not interfering with anybody, but we could still be hard.  But I digress. The yelling continued:
 "Sir, this is public property." I pointed towards what I was pretty sure was City Hall. "That is city property."
 "Well sir, the Bible says ..."
"Yes sir, that's exactly the problem. Honestly, the best thing you could have done as a minster was retire."
  Now I probably shouldn't have said that. It wasn't necessary.  But by now he had been poking me in my chest (technically assault) for  several minutes now and screaming at me. Now the finger went from my chest to my face. A crowd was gathering, and the preaching was still going on.
"The Bible says ..."
 "Go ahead , sir.  We'll be here when they  arrive.". 
  He stomped off into the crowd. The cops never arrived. We stayed for maybe another half hour and departed.
  Now let me say this; I tend to highlight the confrontations we have, but our ministry is not a ministry of contention. We aren't rude, we don't insult people, or at least we try not to.  But when you preach in public, your most devoted opposition will not come from the dope crowd or the prostitute crowd or the devil-worshiping crowd.  Your opposition will come from professing Christians. Pastors will shun you, deacons will insult you. and  people who claim to agree with everything you say will demand that the police arrest you for saying it.
  Strange stuff indeed.