Messiah – Yes, We Need One; Yes, We Have One

March 20, 2011

Most everyone has heard of Handel’s Messiah.  What’s not so known is how similar those times were (in 1741, the year of its debut) with our times today.  For example, the oratorio form did not exist in England before Handel.  Not exactly the most popular form of music today either.  Secondly, there was a big debate about whether entertainment should have an uplifting moral lesson or sink to the level of mere amusement and diversion.  Thirdly, and I think most importantly, then like now, Deism was in full swing.  That is, the popular worldview in the Enlightenment was that

“. . . humans had no need of a god because they were innately good and had the resources to solve their own problems.  Human perfectibility could be achieved by human resources without divine intervention.” (Stapert, p. 75)

In that sense, the USA with its adherence to pursuit of the American Dream is more Deistic and Theistic.  So the question lingers, “Do we need a Messiah?” and if so, “Why do we need a Savior?”

On point one, for me personally, I find very little satisfaction or pleasure in “contemporary” music, Christian or otherwise.  I still remember in 1969 spending an afternoon listening to the Messiah while searching my Bible for all the passages that were being sung.  For me, I’ll take music of substance that grabs my soul and lifts it to the heavens.  Ahh.

On point two, I think entertainment should indeed contain an edifying moral lesson.  It may be humorous or it may be serious, but let me take away something to grow by.  All art forms have the capacity to teach as well as delight.  Good art, in my opinion, should grab us deep and lift us high.  Sadly, much entertainment and “art” today simply resonates with the base and abdicates any moral responsibility.  Roger Kimball wrote in a 1999 Wall Street Journal article:

“We suffer from a peculiar form of moral anesthesia, an anesthesia based on the delusion that by calling something ‘art’ we thereby purchase for it a blanket exemption from moral criticism – as if being art automatically rendered all moral considerations beside the point. . . . “ (Stapert, p. 70)

I agree with those who say that the artist should produce works that, while pleasing, will do the most good.

Do I Need a Savior?

On point three, I think the only reason people think that the Messiah, a Savior, is not necessary is that they underestimate the holiness of God and overestimate the good condition of humankind.  This is what the Bible refers to when it says

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9)

When I realized that my condition in 1968 was worse than being in the doghouse with God (I was actually in the morgue, dead in my separation from God), I knew I couldn’t make the connection with Him on the basis of my accomplishments.  I needed redemption.  To see how clearly John Piper summarizes this, click here.

The word “Messiah” means the “anointed One” in Hebrew.  That is, God anointed Jesus for a specific task, one that only He could accomplish.  “Christ” is the Greek word meaning the “Messiah.”  So, when the Bible mentions Jesus Christ, it carries the meaning of “Jesus, that is, the Messiah, the Anointed One, of God.”

The guy who compiled the words to the Messiah, the librettist Charles Jennens, wanted passionately to proclaim to the world that we need a Messiah.  You see, when he was 28 years old, his younger brother committed suicide by throwing himself out of a window where he was studying at Oxford.  He was found later to have been preyed upon by doubt resulting from correspondence with a professed deist who was gloating over converts to skepticism he had made.  (Stapert, p. 78)

A few years ago, I visited the area where Jesus asked this penetrating question to Peter.  That time, Peter got it right.

“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” (Matthew 16:15-17).

So times don’t change much.  We live in an age when many people ignore our message of salvation through Christ.  Handel wrote his oratorio in the midst of a culture that did not believe we needed a Messiah.  Christ, God himself, came to our planet to seek and to save that which is lost and most people ignored or rejected even him.  Many people are unaware that Easter is the celebration of the resurrection of the Messiah.  Wise men still seek Him.

The Bible is clear:

But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.  For since by a man [Adam] came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.  (1 Corinthians 15:20-22)

I think we need a Messiah.  Why?  Because apart from God’s indwelling Spirit, we are dead.  Following my spiritual rebirth in 1968, I continue to depend on His indwelling Spirit to grow into Christlikeness.  Only through my surrendered spirit can He use me to participate in His will.  That way, He gets the glory for all that is truly good.

So what about you?  Who do you say that He is?  Why do you think we need a Messiah?

From Foster Care to Self-Reliant Young Adults — How?

March 20, 2011

We have a problem in our society.  When a foster care child reaches age 18 they are dumped out of the system.  Most of these young adults lack the skills to be self-reliant.  By age 24, only 1 out of every 5 will be self-sustaining and one out of three will have experienced homeless.  Only 2% will graduate from college.  About 30,000 young adults “age out” of foster care every year on our country.

Eric & Kara Gilmore

Eric and Kara Gilmore offer a solution.  I met them last night.  They have formed an organization called Immerse Arkansas (they’re located in Little Rock).  They offer “transitional coaching” to help these young adults relationship skills so they can make it.  They emphasize the importance of a relationship with God, with self, with community and with the world around them.  I was impressed by their persons-helping-persons approach.  “Good neighbors are much better than good projects and a whole lot cheaper.”

Transitions are always difficult.  But without a helping hand to take that step from foster care to independent living, most will not make it.  With help, they can become contributory members of society.  Without help, they may become a drain on society.  Immerse Arkansas could use your help.  Visit their website to learn more.  They’re operating on a shoestring budget and would be greatly encouraged by your financial support.  You can donate financially by clicking on the link at the bottom of Eric’s blog.

A related  book on helping young people make this transition is an old (but good) one: “Raising Self-Reliant Children in a Self-Indulgent World: Seven Building Blocks for Developing Capable Young People” by Stephen Glenn.  But books don’t get the job done.  They simply help people to be more effective in helping people.

While I was listening to Eric and Kara talk, I was reminded of the ancient command by God to

“walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart . . . and He executes justice for the orphan . . .” Deuteronomy 10:12-20

And in the New Testament, James reminds us

“pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” (James 1:27)

I’d love to see this organization get solidly established in Little Rock  and then become a model to spread across the country.  No one person can do it all, but every person can do something.  Let’s help them  build.

Addendum 11/23/12: Following their inaugural fundraising banquet, Keith released this video:

Be Prepared

March 17, 2011


Be prepared!  A good boy scout is.  A marine after boot camp is.  The Japanese were (as much as anyone could be . . . but they got whacked beyond imagination).  But young married couples typically are not prepared for the difficulties and blessings that a marriage brings.

A counselor who is now in practice  in College Stations, TX (near Texas A&M) wrote an article about God’s design for marriage that has helped several thousand people get focused over the past few years.

A young therapist in town, Matt Inman, has just come on the scene.  He is wise beyond his years.  He not only provides good pre-marital counseling here is Dallas, but he also has started a blog which I want to follow.  It’s called Fig Tree Counseling and his latest post looks at the importance of pre-marital counseling.  Check it out.

All this talk of preparation makes me ask, “What does it mean to be ready for the Second Coming of the Lord.  He said he would come again (John 14:3,18).  The Bible says it will be sudden (Matt 24:27).  Jesus said that we are not to know exactly when it will happen (Acts 1:7).  The Bible consistently indicates that the preparedness of his coming should bring comfort to us who believe (1 Thessalonians 4:18).   I think I can be prepared to the extent that my heart is surrendered to Him and my devotion is to do His will.  What does it mean to you?

Human Trafficking or Human Dignity?

March 15, 2011

When vulnerable people are exploited, we have several responses: ignore the injustice and pretend it doesn’t exist; support efforts to correct the injustice; or get involved at some disadvantage to oneself in order to improve the lives of others.  Gina Calvert, a local author and wife of a good friend of mine, has chosen the third option.  A year ago, she traveled to Ghana to help provide an option to their fated human trafficking.  Here’s her story as she wrote to me upon her return.

I traveled to Ghana with Freedom Stones, a non-profit that works in Thailand and Ghana to create sustainable income-generation projects for the prevention of trafficking. Right now they’re making jewelry with local resources (beads and stones from the area). Our job was to train the people who would be making the jewelry. We thought it would be local women, but it ended up being teenagers rescued from trafficking (explained in the next paragraph.) The Diamond Empowerment Fund, an organization made up of all the world’s major jewelers, has commissioned up to 100,000 pieces of a specific necklace from Freedom Stones’ Ghana project in order to show the world they’re against trafficking (since the diamond industry is rife with it). The necklace will be sold in Sterling Jewelers and I think Zales. It’s given a lot of women jobs! The founder is Leah Knippel of Frisco.

We traveled with and stayed at a children’s home belonging to Touch A Life,  which rescues children from trafficking. They have rescued and are committing to long-term support of almost 400 children (200+ in Asia, the rest in Ghana.) Pam Cope, the founder, has been on Oprah, and works with celebrities, sports figures, doctors, etc. to take care of these amazing kids. She works to educate about trafficking and caring for the world’s orphans and widows, as well as advocating personal healing through this work. Her son died suddenly at 15 ten years ago, which ultimately led to her work. The story is compelling. The book is Jantzen’s Gift. It’s been translated into several languages (it’s a bestseller in Italy right now).  She and I coauthored a book called Little Bead. It’s a coffee table book with a simple message even kids can get. The gorgeous pictures depict the bead-making process in Ghana and we have explained how this models the way God transforms us. A copy of it recently auctioned for $100. Right now it’s selling for $40, which includes a $10 donation to a Ghana project.

Tim Keller says

Doing justice in poor communities includes direct relief, individual development, community development, racial reconciliation and social reform. (p. 78)

It seems to me that Gina Calvert is participating in several of these areas.

This is another example of good people doing good things.  When more people, like Gina, are moved by the indwelling Christ to reach out to the vulnerable areas of our world, we see the proper fruit of faith which is good works.

Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?  In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. (James 2:15-17)

They Read for Those Who Cannot

March 8, 2011

Click on image to link to Megan Hoffmann's blog

Ten million Americans are visually impaired or blind.  That means they can’t read.  But a friend of mine, Alex, volunteers for an organization that solves that problem.  Reading and Radio Resource provides readers.  These are good people doing a good thing.  They read textbooks; they read newspapers; they read books; on tape; in mp3 format; over the radio.

If you’re looking for a way to help others, consider volunteering.  Consider sending money.

Christar – a Distinctive Mission Organization

March 7, 2011

I started this year to work with a mission organization called Christar.  I help to assess and evaluate candidates for training in a life of serving in the least-reached areas of the world.  Here’s their focus:

It’s a remarkable organization.  Their goal is clear: “. . . to establish churches among least-reached Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and other Asians worldwide.”  At a banquet in January, US Director Dr. Robert Kilgore shared some eye-popping statistics.  For example, “More Muslims have come to Christ in the past 25 years than in all previous history combined.”  The proportion of believers in the world has grown at a remarkable rate over the past 40 years.  Look at the graph.

I was encouraged to hear that the number of languages with the scriptures has exploded over the past century.

I am particularly impressed by Christar’s sensitivity to and respect for other cultures.  They’re not interested in Americanizing other cultures.  Instead, they want to introduce the person of Christ to people whose hearts and lives can be transformed.

All nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.  (Psalm 86:11)

The Bible indicates that this is the where humanity is to end up.  So I think Christar is participating in the grand scheme of God who will bring this about.

. . . for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.  (Revelation 5:9-10)

I think the world would be a much better place if everyone in it were more Christ-like.