April 1, 2020

The Liberating Light of the Gospel

An Easter Devotional

Rev. Dr. Mark Raeburn Johnston

Early one Sunday morning some two thousand years ago, following the
Passover of the Jews, Jesus of Nazareth was physically, bodily raised from the
dead! According to the Gospels, the first witnesses among His followers were a
few women who dared to honor His Name.
His other disciples were hiding from the religious authorities that had arrested
and crucified Jesus a couple days before.
Each of these men had pledged to ‘follow the Lord,’ even unto death if need be,
but each had failed and fled before the soldiers who arrested their Master that
fateful Passover night.
Hiding out in an undisclosed location in Jerusalem, these disciples had locked
the doors for fear of being discovered, arrested and possibly executed.
In some sense of the word, fear had ‘quarantined’ these disciples.
However, while they tried to lock the world out, they themselves were the ones
jailed by their own fears, their worries and their guilt.
These disciples were ashamed of their own cowardice in the face of that evil
persecution that always opposes God’s righteousness.
One wonders;
Did the disciples speak kindly to one another in the tortured hours of their
self-confinement?
Did they forgive each other for their shameful abandonment of the One who had
opened blind eyes, fed thousands with but a few loaves of bread,
and even raised the dead?
Could they look at each other without the guilt that such betrayal brings,
especially since they were chosen by the Master to be His disciples?
We can be assured that even as Peter wept with the realization of his three
denials, when the rooster crowed at the exact moment he said, “I don’t know
the Man!” that he, like each of these other men, could not forgive himself.
Ancient Christian mystics used to speak of the ‘dark night of the soul’ as a
reference of the kind of doubting, torment and struggle that these failed
disciples experienced.
How often do we ourselves struggle with a sense of spiritual failure, of unbelief
in the love and sovereign care of God?
Who among us has not encountered something that paralyzed us with fear, or
had an experience that tossed us into irrational panic, doubt and distress?
Have we not all betrayed the Lord because of our lack of faith?
We worry about our health. We worry about our money. We worry about our
home. We worry.
With such worry we plant the seeds of betrayal. Doubt entertained finally
causes despair to flourish, and with despair there comes an abandonment of
hope. Too often we run to the darkness of some ‘locked room’ to hide from the
consequences of our failure.
How many of us are imprisoned by a dependence on alcohol, drugs or
something else due to some painful life experience? How many of us have
hungered for acceptance but instead, experienced rejection?
Who amongst us has abandoned their faith thinking that they are unlovable,
even by God?
When we cloister ourselves behind ‘locked doors’ due to our worries, fears and
doubts, we become like those first disciples who professed faith in Christ, yet
denied His promises and power.
The great Apostle to the Gentiles understood this when he wrote;
“Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer
loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute,
or in danger, or threatened with death?” (Romans 8:35)
The answer is obvious. God loves us and cares for us.
Paul continued in his letter to the Romans;
“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who
loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.
Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor
our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from
God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below — indeed, nothing in
all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed
in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans. 8:37-39)
If the Gospel record of Jesus physical Resurrection had ended with only the
witness of the women, we would not have Christianity today.
It was the witness of Christ Himself that broke through the self-imposed
imprisonment of the disciples.
With the bodily entrance of Jesus into that ‘locked room’ the fears, worries, and
most importantly, the guilt, of those men were instantly relieved.
Their Master had prophesied their betrayal. The Lord had understood from the
beginning the frailty of the human heart. Jesus came to save sinners, such as
those who were hiding in that darkened room.
He is still finding those who are in-hiding today!
Because the Lord Jesus Christ is alive, we have the authority to leave the
locked rooms of our self-imposed captivity and enter into the light of eternal life
and Salvation!
Easter Morning is about such an exit from darkness and an entrance into light!
This Easter Sunday, let’s thank the Lord for His glorious salvation. Let’s step
away from the darkness that locks us up and enter into the liberating light of
the Gospel. Then, let’s tell others that Jesus is alive!’

March 29, 2020

God’s 7 Promises

Psalm 91 Part 7

Rev. Dr. Mark Raeburn Johnston

The first part of Psalm 91 speaks of God’s wonderful protection and provision for those who place their trust in Him. The last three verses reveal seven promises the Lord makes to the faithful.

In the first section of the Psalm, David exhorts us to trust in the goodness of God. In the final portion of the Psalm, beginning with verse 14, God expresses the trustworthiness of His love for us. Referring to His “will” seven times, the Lord proclaims;

“Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him on high, because he has known My name. 15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him, and will show him My salvation.”  (Ps. 91:14-16)

Those who love the Lord will experience deliverance, will be set on high, will be answered, will be accompanied in times of trouble, and will be honored. They will have long life and they will know God’s great salvation!

Each of these promises should be meditated on by every person who claims to love the Lord.

But how do we love God? How do we ‘set our love’ upon the Lord?

The answers to these questions begin all the way back with verse one;

“He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High

shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty…”

Dwelling in the Presence of God is not a passive act. Rather, it takes a concerted effort, a decision, to ‘dwell’ and to ‘abide’ in the holy companionship of the Lord.

This effort is rooted in what we actually believe about life, the world and God.

If we believe that God is distant, uncaring and unavailable, we probably will not seek Him. There is no possibility of a personal relationship with a distant, uncaring God.

If we entertain doctrines of devils, uphold falsehoods as truths, and deny holiness as defined by Scripture, we will not enjoy the Lord’s fellowship. Such is unbelief in the teachings of the Lord.

On the other hand, if we believe God’s word and consciously walk with the Lord, attempting, even with all our imperfections and faults, to fulfill the great commandment to ‘love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength’ (Mark 12:30), we will know His promised Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33-39).

In chapter three of John’s Gospel, Nicodemus, a religious ruler of the Jews, came to Jesus and heard the ‘good news’ of God’s great salvation. Jesus told Nicodemus that for anyone to ‘see the Kingdom of God’ one must be born again. Their discussion culminated in what has become known as the ‘little’ Gospel. Jesus said;

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

Jesus continued;

 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:16-18)

Believing that the Lord loves us, that we can call upon His Name, is the first important step to personally knowing God and dwelling in His Presence.

We who believe are not convinced or swayed by a hostile world that says, ‘there is no God!’ Rather, we believe that God has come into this world through the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus has come to reveal the Father and to give the promised Holy Spirit to those who believe.

Jewish people traditionally recognized the 91st Psalm to be a Messianic promise of God’s salvation. This promise is emphasized in the seven “I will” statements of God for His people. Christians believe the truth of these promises in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth. In the ancient Church, Christians were called ‘believers’ as demonstrated from the Book of Acts;

“And believers were increasingly added to the Lord,

multitudes of both men and women…”   (Acts 5:14)

The promises of God are for any who place their trust in Him. We believe His promises and enjoy God’s protection and wellbeing.

Let’s reread this Psalm in times of trouble and be reminded that our God is a faithful shade from the heat of trial (verse 1); a dependable shield from the arrows of tribulation (verse 4); and our trustworthy Savior who rescues us from the trauma of sin and death (verse 16)! Then, let’s share these wonderful promises with others who desire to “dwell in the secret place of the Most High!”

Message from Rev. Tim Rogers

March 28, 2020

Friends,

Bishop Holston is extending the call to suspend all in-person worship until the end of April.

You can read the complete statement here: https://www.umcsc.org/bishop-holston-extends-call-to-suspend-in-person-worship-through-april/

As there have been numerous questions about communion, the statement clarifies that this suspension extends to communion as well.

These are the central portions of Bishop Holston’s statement:

“After consulting with The Cabinet, and in light of the latest information shared by public health officials, I am strongly recommending that leaders of each local church continue to suspend in-person worship services and all gatherings, meetings and events, through April 30, 2020. Recommendations about events planned for May will be communicated in the coming weeks..”

“Because of the theological nature of communion as something that the body of believers does together in the sharing of one loaf, and because of the practical dangers currently involved in close physical contact, it is strongly recommended that we should not take part in communion until it is safe for us to all come together again to worship as one body.”

Please read the entire statement for a full understanding.

Thank you for your creativity, your faithfulness, and your courage – grounded in the Gospel – as you lead your people and your communities through this season of disruption.

Blessings,

Tim

Rev. Timothy J. Rogers

Marion District Superintendent

South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church

PO Box 543

Marion, SC 29571

Phone: (843) 423-1202

Fax: (843) 423-6775

 

March 26, 2020

Our Victory

Psalm 91 Part 6

Rev. Dr. Mark Raeburn Johnston

“For He shall give His angels charge over you,

to keep you in all your ways.

In their hands they shall bear you up,

lest you dash your foot against a stone.

You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,

the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”

 (Psalm 91:11-13)

Ironically, Satan quoted Psalm 91 while tempting Jesus, the King of Angels, to jump from the temple mount, saying that;

“…the angels shall bear thee up in their hands,

lest thou dash thy foot against a stone…”

According to Matthew, chapter 4, verses 6-7, Jesus answered;

“It is written;Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God!’”

The Lord asserted the authority of God’s word over the temptations of darkness, winning the victory over Satan. This sets the example we as believers should follow; Know the word; Use the word; Quote the word!

While the devil can quote the scriptures, he doesn’t understand or believe them. It might have been to Satan’s advantage had he read a little further in this Psalm. In verse 13 we also read;

You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.”

There’s the irony!

In the Bible, the terms lion, cobra and serpent are sometimes used as synonyms for the devil. Each of these words are descriptive of destructive powers or deadly forces. According to this Psalm, such evil is to be trampled underfoot, by the very feet the angels are commissioned to protect!

It isn’t that we somehow defeat the evil of this world by our own strength or wisdom. Rather, we join the victory of Christ who defeated all the powers of darkness on the Cross of Calvary, and we do that by trusting in His Name and abiding in His Presence. Christian missionary, martyr, and Olympic champion, Eric Liddell wrote;

“Victory over all the circumstances of life comes not by might, nor by power, but by a practical confidence in God and by allowing His Spirit to dwell in our hearts and control our actions and emotions…”

Our victory was promised by God at the outset of human history to Adam and Eve, our first parents. In Genesis chapter 3 verse 15, we read of God’s promise of our victory over sin and death.  Addressing the Serpent, the Lord proclaimed;

“An I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall crush your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”  

This prophecy foretold a day when the Messiah would enter our world and destroy the Evil One. This is the very first presentation of the Gospel in the Bible, and the hope of this victory was passed down through human history and is included in Psalm 91.

This long-prophesied victory was finally won for us on a skull-shaped mount called Golgotha, also known in Scripture as “the place of the skull” (Mark 15:22).

It was there, in a very picturesque way, that the God of the universe displayed the full impact and meaning of “crushing the head” of the serpent!

The Cross set atop that skull-shaped hill,

Whereupon God bridged joyous Heaven to joyless Earth

That we might all, with true victory fill,

The cup of hope, through eternal birth…

 It also says that the Savior’s heel would be bruised in the process of our redemption. This speaks of the Messiah who would die while destroying the power of death. But death could not overcome the Author of Life!

Jesus was bodily raised from real, physical death in complete and total victory! That victory is now our victory! We share in the victory of Christ through faith in His work, confession of our sins and with an invitation that God come into our lives.  Old preachers used to celebrate this Easter truth by preaching a sermon entitled;

“The Death of Death in the Death of Christ!”

As Christians, we are not determined simply by our history, rather, we are defined by our future! As the beloved Apostle John foresaw and wrote;

“God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away…Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’”

 (Revelation 21:4-5)

My friend, there’s a new day coming! And that day is a day of complete victory over every circumstance you may now be facing! So, today, let’s walk with the confidence of this incredible truth. Let’s trample underfoot every negative thought and every destructive word by quoting God’s promises.

Then, let’s share the ‘good news’ of God’s Salvation with someone else!

A Message from Tim Rogers, Marion District Superintendent

Friends,

As we move further into the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, our national, state, and episcopal leaders have both urged (and sometimes required) us to comply with a lot of steps that most of us never envisioned in our lifetimes. As part of that, earlier this month Bishop Holston strongly urged that all of our churches suspend all in-person gatherings, including worship services, until the end of March.

Governor McMaster has now issued an Executive Order directed at gatherings of more than three people, which includes this provision:

“C. I hereby authorize, order, and direct any and all law enforcement officers of the State, or any political subdivision thereof, in accordance with section 16-7-10 of the South Carolina Code of Laws and other applicable law, to prohibit or disperse any congregation or gathering of people, unless authorized or in their homes, in groups of three (3) or more people, if any such law enforcement official determines, in their discretion, that any such congregation or gathering of people poses, or could pose, a threat to public health.”

If you would like to read the entire order, you can access it here: https://www.governor.sc.gov/sites/default/files/Documents/Executive-Orders/2020-03-23%20eFILED%20Executive%20Order%20No.%202020-13%20-%20Authorizing%20Law%20Enforcement%20to%20Preserve%20Public%20Health.pdf

I ask that you continue to help your people understand that we are all part of the effort to control this virus as quickly as we can by complying with – and being leaders in – the efforts to keep a safe distance from others, practice good hygiene, and avoid being out unnecessarily. My expectation is that we will set an example for the community by complying in every possible way.  Please remember that people can carry and transmit the virus even when they look and feel perfectly well.

You are in my prayers daily, and I am deeply grateful for all that you are doing to share the hope of Jesus Christ with a world in need.

Blessings,

Tim

Rev. Timothy J. Rogers

Marion District Superintendent

South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church

March 24, 2020

Sacred Distancing

Psalm 91 Part 5

Rev. Dr. Mark Raeburn Johnston

Psalm 91 tells us that even though evil and destruction surround us, God is with us! The Lord accompanies and protects us on the journey of life when we walk with Him!

In verses 7 through 9 the Psalmist sings:

“A thousand shall fall at your side,

and ten thousand at your right hand;

but it shall not come near you.

Only with your eyes shall you behold and see the reward of the wicked.

Because you have made the LORD,

Who is my refuge, even the Most High, your habitation,

there shall no evil befall you,

neither shall any plague come near your dwelling…”

Because a plague is rampaging throughout the land, we are being encouraged to practice responsible ‘social distancing’ by maintaining a reasonable distance from one another. This strategy is designed to prevent the cross contamination of the deadly coronavirus, and it is sound advice that we should all heed.

May I suggest that we also practice ‘sacred distancing’ that separates us from the destructive powers found in this world, while simultaneously drawing us closer in our walk with God?

Any of us who would walk the golden highway of heaven cannot walk the dusty roads of this fallen world.

This truth is taught throughout the Bible.

There is a broad road that leads to destruction, and there is a narrow road that leads to life. We must make the decision concerning which path we travel.

Throughout Psalm 91 David uses imagery and words such as dwells in the secret place and abides under the shadow of the Almighty, terms such as refuge, fortress, habitation, and dwelling to speak of our fellowship with God.

The overriding principle being taught throughout this incredible hymn of praise is that those who endeavor to walk close to the Lord will be better protected from the terrors and tribulations that are roaming the world.

Sacred distancing means that we separate ourselves from anything that destroys the soul and ruins the spirit. In other words, we avoid the sin-virus that causes death and destruction.

Those who are vaccinated through the Blood of the Lamb have a responsibility to maintain a righteous relationship with the Holy One through His grace. When we separate ourselves from sinful situations, we position ourselves to receive the blessings of God!

Writing to the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul warned;

“You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons.”

(1 Corinthians 10:21)

Paul told the brethren to avoid any fellowship that might separate them from the Lord and rob them of God’s blessings.

In like manner he exhorted the Ephesian Christians to;

“have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness…” (Ephesians 5:11)

However, it is difficult to avoid the dangerous temptations of darkness. All have ‘stumbled’ and fallen short of the glory of God!

But, according to Psalm 91, we note that the Lord provides the protection of ministering angels to guard and guide the steps of those who would walk in His light;

“…God will give His angels charge over you and will keep you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone!”

It’s interesting that the devil used this very Scripture when tempting Jesus in the wilderness. In that harsh environment where serpent and scorpion live, where the wild beasts howl, that fallen prince of demons quoted the Word of God to God the Word, and was rebuffed by Jesus with the answer;

“It is written; ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God!’” (Matthew 4:6-7)

Later we read that angels from heaven came and ministered to Jesus after his ordeal (Matthew 4:11). In like manner, angels are ministering to each of us.  Most often we don’t even realize that angels are surrounding us and protecting us!

A few years ago, Las Ultimas Noticias news reported what many have come to believe was a miracle of divine protection.

According to the story, several illegal immigrants have tragically lost feet or legs trying to enter Chile through a restricted area along the Ecuadorian border. Filled with deadly land-mines, there are warnings posted to not cross this wilderness place at risk of injury or death.

Not realizing the danger, Jorge and Soledad Jaramillo and their three small children traveled some sixteen miles through the mined area. They never saw the posted notices that warned of the terrible menace surrounding them.

After a full day’s walk, they finally reached a Chilean military checkpoint, where soldiers were amazed that they hadn’t all been blown up!

The family wept when they were told of their escape!

There are many times we don’t even realize that the Lord is guarding our steps. Because God loves us, He seeks to protect us. Why not pause a moment and thank the Lord for His manifold mercies and protection? And then, commit to sacred distancing, in so doing, you will draw others to the blessings that come when we walk with the Lord!