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Saturday, April 26, 2014

The Atonement

This past weekend - Good Friday, Saturday and Resurrection Sunday - Welkom Baptist Church had a conference focusing on The Atonement.  I think everyone reading this post knows the holidays I referenced, but many people may not know what "Atonement" means.  Now, we just had like 6 hours of preaching and teaching on the subject, but a simple definition is "Reparation or Expiation for Sin". The dictionary gives the origin of the word as meaning "at one + ment" denoting unity from the Latin word "to unite."

Ultimately, we know that our sin separates us from God.  Sin is a violation of the character and laws of an infinite person (Rom 3:23, I John 3:4), meaning that there is an infinite punishment to pay (Rev 20:10-15).  But when Jesus, the sinless Son of God, accepted the punishment for sin, He proved to be the sacrifice that removes God's wrath...the one who brings unity with God (Is 53, John 1:29, Rom 5:1, Gal 1:4, I Pet 1:18-19).  Through His infinite righteousness He fulfilled all the requirements of God to expiate sin, making a way for us to be reunited with the source of all life.  And when we are united with God, we ourselves possess eternal life (John 17:3).

The problem is that:
1) humans don't like to admit fault for anything, let alone the fact that we're completely sinful.
2) due to our sinfulness, there is no way we can ever do anything to cleanse our souls and merit God's favor.
3) we constantly try to appease God when His standard is absolute perfection, something we can never attain.

Yet for the one who understands his sinfulness and God's righteous obligation to punish sin, the one who responds "God, have mercy on me, a sinner!", this very one receives God's approval on the basis of His approval of His Son's sacrifice.  It isn't anything I've done, am doing or can do.  It is all a work of Jesus.  My baptism, church attendance or allegiance, my acts of penitence, my acts of charity, any righteous deed - none of these things earn God's favor.  They can only be worshipful offerings of thanksgiving to my Savior.  If I think these offerings somehow pay for my sins, somehow balance out God's divine ledger, I've just nullified the death of Jesus by making the statement that my efforts will appease God's wrath.  I CAN'T DO IT!

But now, as a child of God, I now receive all the benefits described in Romans 8.  Paul's flawless logic in Rom 8:32 puts it this way "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?"  You see, if God was willing to give His Son on my behalf, is there anything more precious than that?  If He gave it all, what more is there to give?

Pastor John Macdonald was our preacher for the Good Friday service.  By way of illustration he told the story of a wealthy man whose son passed away.  Admittedly this story is most likely an urban legend, but it encapsulates the point well:
A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art. They had everything in their collection, from Picasso to Raphael. They would often sit together and admire the great works of art. When war broke out, the son went to serve. He was very courageous, and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified, and grieved deeply for his only son.
About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door. A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, "Sir, you don't know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart and he died instantly. He often talked about you and your love for art." The young man held out his package. "I know this isn't much. I'm not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this."
The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. He stared in awe at the way the soldier had captured the personality of his son in the painting. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. "Oh, no, sir," said the young man, "I could never repay what your son did for me. It's a gift."
The father hung the portrait over his mantel. Every time visitors came to his home, he took them to see the portrait of his son before he showed them any of the other great works he had collected.
The man died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. Many influential people gathered, excited over seeing the great paintings and having an opportunity to purchase one for their collection.
On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. "We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?"
There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, "We want to see the famous paintings. Skip this one."
But the auctioneer persisted. "Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?"
Another voice shouted angrily, "We didn't come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids!"
But still the auctioneer continued, "The son! The son! Who'll take the son?"
Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. "I'll give $10 for the painting," he said. Being a poor man, it was all he could afford.
"We have $10, who will bid $20?"

"Give it to him for $10," called out an angry voice. "Let's see the masters."

"$10 is the bid, won't someone bid $20?"

The crowd was becoming angry. They didn't want the picture of the son. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. At last, the auctioneer pounded his gavel. "Going once, twice, SOLD for $10!"
A man sitting in the second row shouted, "Now, let's get on with the collection!"

The auctioneer laid down his gavel. "I'm sorry, the auction is over."

"What about the paintings?"

"I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets everything!"

I John 5:11-12 "And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Back in S.A.

Greetings from South Africa, where the weather is as predictable as a Swiss watch.  Which is a big change from the Midwest, am I right?

We've now been here for about two weeks and it's high time that we update everyone.  We left the States on March 27th, after a parade of goodbyes.  I always thought that farewells would get easier...but I was wrong.  So we won't say too much about those except this - If we missed saying goodbye to you, or if it was extremely lame, it's because we were trying a new technique.  If we pretend that we aren't saying goodbye for a long time it lessens the drama, especially for our kids.  We've spoken with many former missionary kids and a theme that stuck out was how hard the times of transition were.  So we tried to make it easier this time.  I'm not sure it worked.

We also tried something new on our flight back.  Our kids are old enough now that traveling with them isn't such a game of roulette.  The most direct route between DSM and Johannesburg is a non-stop Delta flight through Atlanta, running about 24 hours total, depending on layovers.  Unfortunately that one is usually more expensive.  So we find ourselves taking whatever flight is cheapest.  This time it was through London and we had the opportunity for a 10 hour layover.  So to make the most of it we went into the city to see what is so great about Britain.  

But before we get to that I need to share something cool that happened during our layover in Chicago.  We had been given a Flat Stanley by a friend's child.  When we arrived at our departure gate Amber got Stanley out to take a picture.  And as she was doing that we noticed a woman sitting next to us getting out a Flat Stanley of her own...except her Stanley was a girl (which seems like a strange name for a girl, but whatever).  So Amber asked if we could take pictures of them together.  This started a conversation with the lady, which eventually led into an opportunity to share the gospel with her.  She is a native of London who has lived in the Chicago area for the last 25 years.  Her mother had passed away in November and she was returning now to settle up her mother's estate.  Sadly enough, this seemed to be the first time she had ever heard the gospel in any form.  As an atheist she was very polite but obviously wasn't in agreement.  Eventually the conversation moved back to her trip and how hard it would be to close her mother's things out.  
At that point Drake pipes into the conversation and says to her "I know what you should do."  
"What?" she replied.
"You should pray to Jesus to help you."
And he was so earnest about it there was nothing she could say.  She just sat there nodding at him, then said "Yes, you're probably right."
At that we were called to board the plane and didn't have a chance to go further with her.  But I know this, she had an 8 hour flight to think things through.

Once we arrived in London it took us a couple hours to actually find the correct terminal, get our carry-on bags secured, buy tickets on the train and then get to Picadilly Circus.  We had just enough time to take the double-decker bus tour before we had to return.  Here are some of the highlights:
-The double-decker bus, which our kids loved.
-The history, such as St James Palace which was built by King Henry VIII as a hunting lodge.
-Buckingham Palace, the guards, the pomp and ceremony.  We got off the bus to see the front of Buckingham, and there must have been some official State event, because every 30 seconds or so a small group of people would emerge from the palace.  You should have seen the various hats the women were wearing.  High comedy!
-Seeing the main sites, such as Westminster, House of Parliament, the Clock Tower (mistakenly called Big Ben by ignorant folk such as yours truly), London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, etc...
-The historical tidbits from the tour guide on our second bus.  He was great and we were sitting right next to him so I got to ask all sorts of questions.  We learned all about the London fire, Oliver Cromwell, the Thames waterfront, Fleet Street, all manner of things...
We wanted to make sure to get back to Heathrow in plenty of time, so we were careful to keep an eye on the clock...actually, that's just a figure of speech.  Because about halfway through the tour we were still moving away from Picadilly Circus so I asked the tour guide approximately how much longer it would be.  He said about an hour and a half.  So I asked him what time it was.  Completely deadpan, with the sarcastic British humor, he says to me (over the loudspeaker so the entire bus-both levels-could hear) "Why don't you turn around?  The most famous clock in the world is right behind you."  Yep, there was Big Ben, not 300 yards away, telling me exactly what time it was.  From that point forward it was easy to keep an eye on the clock.  (Bloody British and their cutting wit!)

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful.  Our biggest fear was meeting up with my brother Caleb.  He came along to help us but had to take a different flight.  So to our great joy he was there waiting in the lobby of OR Tambo right on time the morning we arrived.

Here is where I have to give a list of so many things to thank God for:
-Caleb's willingness to take time out of his schedule to help.
-Brett and Celita Winson and their willingness to car-sit for us and deliver our car to the airport.
-Tricia Dargie and her hospitality, friendship and love.
-Paddy Winson for caring for our dog, etc...
-Jim and Kim Heffner, who have allowed us to stay in their home for a few months.

In fact, I need to give more information on the Heffners.  This is a family that we met last year.  God has called them to come serve in Welkom, ministering to and discipling young people in the church and community.  I'll need to do another post at another time to fully share who they are and how God has led them.  For now I'll leave it that they have become dear friends and have been used by God to bless us in many ways.  They are hoping to arrive in Welkom in June and we are greatly anticipating their arrival.
 
The Heffners purchased a home in December in anticipation of their upcoming ministry here.  It was opened to us to occupy until they arrive.  We got to Welkom Saturday afternoon.  Sunday was a great time to reunite with people from church and rest.  Then on Monday we began to move things from our house at RHV.  First item on the agenda was to meet with the Heffner's realtor and get access to the house.  This being Africa we anticipated several hours of headaches trying to get the house and work with the local municipality to get utilities started.  But God spared us.  It took 15 minutes to meet with the realtor, get the keys and get into the house.  And the realtor had already registered the house with the municipality so water and electric were fully functional!

Everyone from The Village was gone for the day at an amusement park in Johannesburg, so we had no interruptions...an oddity in South Africa.  Caleb was an amazing help and we got about 90% of the moving done that first day.  We had to return the rented trailer by 8:00am the next morning, but since we still had a healthy dose of jet lag it was no problem to get an early start.  With so little left to do we were finished by 7:30 and had the trailer back right on time.

Now we're just working to settle in...both to the house and to reconnect with so many relationships.  Of course, that has been the enjoyable part.  

Oh, and we were able to get internet access on April 9th...6 days after we applied with the phone company.  Last time we needed to get phone/internet hooked up it took 6 weeks.  My apologies for this overdue update.  

Until next time, keep looking to Jesus.