Friday, November 28, 2008

#18 Vicarious Atonement

"And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the
source of eternal salvation" Hebrews 5:9

I read a story once of two brothers that went to war together. They served
during World War II in the European theater of operations. While on a march
in southern France their company came upon a regiment of German tanks. The
Germans were know for their fierce tactics and the Panzer tanks were at the
very heart of Germany's ability to move like lightning across Europe in
their Blitzkrieg attacks.

The day that the two brothers came face-to-face with their armored German
foes did not go well at all. Most of their company of 220 Soldiers were
killed in the battle. Men against tanks is never odds that you want in
battle. After the initial battle settled down the German soldiers
dismounted their armored vehicles and began a house to house search for
stragglers. The American Soldiers tried to retreat but only a few made it
out of range of the 20mm guns. The two brothers had fought together in some
of the fiercest battles experienced in WWII and each time they had come out
with little more than some scratches. This time would be different. When
the fighting began they tried to take cover behind an abandoned church
building. It had been built with heavy stones and held up much better to
the tank fire than the homes that surrounded it. Despite the heavier cover
one of the tank blasts sent pieces of shattered stone flying through the air
and one of those pieces struck the eldest brother in the right side of his
chest. The bleeding was profuse and the younger brother was unable to get
it under control. As the dust settled and the Germans neared, the younger
brother grew frantic. He desperately wanted to carry his injured brother to
safety and medical aid, but there simply was not time to make it happen.
The medic in their platoon was killed in the attack and he had no idea where
to find another one. Even if he had, time was not on his side. He could
hear the German tongue being spoken just a few feet away. His brother
whispered in his ear, "Just lay still. I am bleeding bad enough that they
will think that we are both dead if I lay on top of you." The younger
brother did not like the option but he had no choice but to go along with
it. He quickly pulled his wounded brother on top of him and laid as still
as humanly possible. In a matter of seconds his elder brother's blood
soaked into his uniform as well. He held onto his brother as tightly as he
could without appearing to be doing so. As the German soldiers made their
way through their location they did not even stop to bother them. While the
Germans were moving on to the next location he could feel his brother
breathe his last. There on the battlefield in southern France he lost his
big brother, but in dying his brother saved his life.

I do not share this story with you tonight to make you sad; quite the
contrary. My desire in telling you this story tonight is to help you
understand just how blessed each of us are. We just celebrated Thanksgiving
yesterday and with the economy doing what it is many of us may think that we
do not have a lot for which to be thankful. I beg to differ with you if
that is your mindset. I am of the mindset that this world is but a
temporary place for us to pass through. Those of us who have accepted
Christ as our Savior will have a better place to live when Jesus comes to
take us to be with Him. He promised in John 14:3 that He would come again
that we can be where He is. But in order for us to be there we have to have
an experience that is somewhat like that of the two brothers from the story
above. Friends, I hope you realize that we-Christians-are in a spiritual
battle against the powers of darkness in this world (Ephesians 6:12). The
only way that we will survive this battle against the enemy of our souls is
to be covered by the blood of our Elder Brother; Jesus Christ. If His
innocent blood is not poured out on our behalf then we must pay the penalty
of our sins with our own blood. The only problem with that is that our
blood is not innocent. Our blood is the blood of the guilty and guilty
blood cannot redeem us to God. Only the guiltless, innocent blood of Jesus
Christ can clear our record with heaven. It is only by accepting the death
of Jesus on our behalf that we can be made at one with God the Father. The
Lamb of God that takes away our sins must use His precious blood to wash
away our guilt.

There are those in this world who would have us believe that Jesus did not
have to die for our sins. There are even some that say that Jesus did not
die for us but with us. Friends, I don't know if you have looked at your
hands lately, but I do not have any nail prints in my hands and I dare say
that none of you do either. The beauty of God's plan of redemption is that
Jesus who knew no sin became sin on our behalf and died in our place ( 2
Corinthians 5:21). We are told that He was tempted in all ways just like
us, but He did not sin in the process ( Hebrews 4:15). In other words,
because of our sin we are worthy of death (Romans 3:23, 6:23) and if we do
not accept Jesus as our Savior we will be destroyed with the wicked (Rev
20:9). However, Jesus lived a perfect life for the sole purpose of dying a
perfect death. Because of His perfect life, He and He alone was worthy to
satisfy the sin debt that all of humanity has. But your sin debt is not
cancelled out until you humble yourself and accept Jesus as your personal
Savior. It is my sincere prayer tonight friends that each one of us will
make the decision that the younger brother did on that French battlefield;
allow the blood of our Elder Brother Jesus Christ to cover us and bring
about our salvation in terms of eternity.

Dear Father,
Tonight as we come to You we realize our great need of a Savior. We realize
that we are in a spiritual battle and we desperately need the blood of Jesus
to cover us. Father we know that the blood of Jesus does not cover up our
sin, it washes it away completely and then we are covered with the
righteousness of Christ. So tonight we pray that You will forgive us of our
sins. Please take away the wrongs that we have wrought and the evil that we
have done in Your sight Lord. We ask for a clean, fresh start tonight so
that we can truly walk through this life with a thankful spirit. Thankful
that the blood of our Elder Brother has taken away our sins and saved us
from destruction. We give our hearts to You afresh this evening dear Lord,

Friday, November 21, 2008

#17 White Out

"Though your sins are as scarlet, They will be as white as snow; Though they
are red like crimson, They will be like wool." Isaiah 1:18 NASB

Just the other day before our skies were filled with varying degrees of
frozen precipitation, I was having a discussion with someone about the
soon-to-come snow. Ever since we have talked to people about coming to
Michigan they have tried to warn us about the winters. Our family is from
North Carolina where it gets really cold, but seldom does it snow. We
usually get freezing rain or something along those lines. Ice storms are
always bad news. Not only because of the obvious road hazard that they
pose, but the weight of the ice is very hard on trees and power lines and
such. While I was talking the other day about the snow to my friend he
asked me if I had ever been in a "white out". I told him that I had not and
that I was not completely clear about what the phrase entailed. He then
asked me if I had ever driven in dense fog and I told him I had. He said
being in a "white out" is very similar to dense fog. He told me that the
snow blows so thick and fast that you cannot see except for short distances.
I remember thinking to myself when he told me all of this that surely we
would not see a "white out" any time soon. Was I ever wrong about that one.

It wasn't three days later that the first snow of the season came. At first
it was just sleet. The sleet then turned to small flakes that morphed into
even larger ones. In fact, the snowy mix begin to fall so thick that I go
to see my first "white out". It was really neat to see. As I looked out
the east window of my study I could see what looked like a wall of white
moving toward our house. It was fascinating for us to see. I know, some of
you are thinking, "Pastor, you've not seen anything yet" and you are
probably right. However, it was neat to experience it for the first time.

As the snow came and went and came and went this week, my mind was drawn to
the thought of Jesus performing a "white out" on each of us in the spiritual
sense. My mind was drawn back to past sins that the Lord has given me
victory over. I remember how elated I was to experience the freedom that
comes from surrendering your life fully to Christ. I became so encouraged
as I thought about the victories that Christ has given me. I can recall
when I was not a Christian. I was not a criminal or anything like that, but
I had one of the worst attitudes that anyone could have. I was not very
pleasant to be around at all. But little by little as Jesus took control of
my heart I experienced Jesus' "white out". I have bumped into people that I
went to high school with and they hardly recognize me. Yes, I have gained
weight since I left high school but because of Jesus working in my life, I
am not the same on the inside as I was in the early nineties. The change
is not because of anything that I did, it only because Jesus found me and
invited me to follow Him. When I gave my heart to Him He performed a
spiritual "white out" and washed away my sins. What's so neat about this
concept is that, just like the snowy "white out", when Jesus takes over a
person's life it becomes more and more difficult to see the old person.
Because Jesus comes into our heart by the power of the Holy Spirit and lives
within us, He begins to redecorate the throne room of our hearts. Jesus
pushes all the other stuff in our lives that we do not need out of the way
and establishes Himself as not only Savoir but Lord of our lives.

Another thing that I love about the gospel of Jesus is that there are no
ethnic, cultural, sexual, or gender boundaries. Jesus loves us each one the
same regardless of our differences that make us unique in the eyes of God.
We are told in 1 Samuel 16:7 that man looks on the outside while God looks
on the inside. Before we come to Jesus we all look same; we are covered
with the scarlet stain of sin. When we accept Christ the scarlet color of
bondage and death is changed into the life-giving color of pure snow. It is
my prayer this evening that each time you see the snow fall this winter that
it would remind you of the promise that the Lord has given us. He has
promised to take away our sins of scarlet and when He does, He will place
His pure white robe of righteousness upon us. May each of us decide just
now to let Jesus perform a spiritual "white out" wash away our sins.

Dear Father God,
As we come to You just now, we have a desperate need for You to take total
control of our lives. We have proven over and over again that we cannot do
it right without You. Left to our own devices we will no doubt slip back
into our old sinful ways. Please draw so close to us Jesus that the lines
blur between where we end and You begin. We are told in Acts 4:13 Lord that
it was said of the disciples that they were recognized as having been with
Jesus. May the same be said of our lives from here forward. We need You to
"white out" our sins Lord and we accept that free gift of salvation yet
again tonight. May we never leave Your side Lord Jesus, Amen.

Friday, November 14, 2008

#16 Loneliness

"...for He Himself has said, "I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER
FORSAKE YOU," Hebrews 13:5 NASB

This past Tuesday our nation celebrated Veteran's Day. Throughout that day
my mind kept going back over various events that I experienced while I was
in Iraq. There were happy times and sad times, times of celebration and
times of mourning. There were times where we were all crowded together and
then there were times that I felt like the loneliest person in the world.
Being 6,300 miles from those that you love and hold dear can be very

I can remember closing my eyes one time and just trying to
recall how it felt to hold my children or hug my wife. One of my worst days
in Iraq came when it was hard for me to remember what it felt like to hold
them in my arms. I would have given anything to just have been able to hold
my wife and kids. Worship was another area that I began to feel some
intense feelings of loneliness. To my knowledge, I was the only Seventh-day
Adventist on my base. My chaplain was really good about letting me have
Sabbath off, and I would spend time in my room playing my guitar and
studying by myself. Sure, I did some Bible studies, but you can't just give
and give and never be fed yourself; you will end up very empty. So each
Sabbath I would go through my little routine. And while I appreciated
having my Sabbaths off, I became very saddened that did not have anyone to
worship with. This was on top of missing my family and other stressors that
a Soldier in combat must face.

One Sabbath I was feeling especially down and I just knelt and prayed to
God. I begged God to send me someone to worship and study with. I wanted
another Adventist to worship with and that was my prayer. After I finished
I needed to go to my office area and get something I had left in my desk. I
was in my physical training uniform that does not have your name on it
anywhere. While I was in the office retrieving my item I saw an Army
Captain coming toward my door. I also noticed that he was wearing the
chaplain insignia above his name. When he came in I stood to greet him and
see what he needed. As soon as he came through the door he said hello and
he asked me if I was Specialist (SPC) Bentley. With a confused look on my
face I told him I was.

Immediately he gave me the biggest smile I have ever seen and he said, "You are a Seventh-day Adventist aren't you?" I told him I was and when I did he came up and gave me a big hug. He then said that he was so glad to meet me because he too was an Adventist and he had been longing to have someone to worship with. He was stationed at another base where our brigade headquarters was and when he found out I was just north of him he made every effort to come and meet me.

I was totally blown away. Just an hour before that I was knelt down in my room praying for the Lord to send me another Adventist to worship with and this chaplain had left two days prior to get to my base to meet with me. He was on his way to the
Turkish border to meet with troops up there, but he made it a point to stop
off and meet me. I was thrilled that God answered my prayer so quickly.
Not only that, God was busy answering my prayer days in advance of my
asking. What an awesome and wonderful God we serve!

This evening I know that some of you who are reading this may not have been
to church in a long time. There may be some who think that because they
have been gone so long it would be impossible to go back. Others may read
this and wish that they had someone to be with them throughout the week.
Whether or not you fit into any of the categories that I just mentioned I
know that we have each had times in our lives that we felt lonely. My heart
goes out to you just now because I can empathize with you all too well.

However, I firmly believe that God is willing and able to be true to His
promises. When He tells us that He will never leave us or forsake us then
we can count on that to be true. I encourage each of you this evening to be
faithful to God just as He will always be faithful to you. If you have not
been to church in a while make up your mind tonight to change that. The
hardest part is just deciding to do it. Once you get there many people will
be very glad to see you and will welcome you back. For those who are
feeling intense loneliness then fall on your knees and pray that God will
put someone in your life to provide the fellowship that you need. But no
matter what happens I pray that each of us will remember that it is us that
leave Jesus and not the other way around.

Dear Father God,
Please reach down tonight and allow us to feel Your hand of comfort and
care. Please send Your Holy Spirit to speak to each of our hearts and
assure us that You long to be by our side. I pray for those who are
battling loneliness also. When You were on the cross Lord I know that You
too felt lonely when You cried out to Your Father. Thank You for being such
a wonderful Savior and Lord, and I pray that we would all learn to rely
fully upon You in every situation. It is in the name of Christ Jesus we
pray just now, Amen.

Friday, November 7, 2008

#15 The Weakest Link

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might." Ephesians

When I was in high school I had very few classes that I actually enjoyed.
Before getting to high school I loved school. I am not sure what happened
exactly, but I came to the point that I loathed the thought of going to
class and listening to some teacher ramble on and on. Now I am a pastor and
people have to listen to me ramble; turnabout is fair play I suppose J.
Anyway, the class that I loved was drafting. We learned to draw machine
parts, houses, and all sorts of really neat things. I was much better at
mechanical drafting than the architectural side.

I ended up taking drafting all three years of high school-where Ginger and I grew up 9th grade was junior high-and I even took a self study course for computer-aided design that was really a lot of fun. One of the projects that we had to complete
in my third year drafting class was to build a bridge out of 1/8th inch
square X 12" long balsa wood. We were all given the same amount of pieces
and the only thing we could use with it was glue. The goal was to build a
bridge using a design that we came up with and then we would bring them all
to the class and test them for strength. I cannot remember what the prize
was but the designer of the strongest bridge won something that seemed
really cool at that point in my life.

The testing was quite crude in that we simply supported each of the bridges
and suspended weights from the bottom of them. Weights were then added
until the bridge collapsed. I was really proud of my design and I had
worked really hard to ensure that everything was as it should be. When the
weights were hung on my bridge I was very confident. I even joked with some
of my classmates that I would share the prize with them when I won it.
There had been some others who had gone ahead of me and their bridges tore
apart with about 20 pounds or so on them. One guy actually made it to about
32 or 33. Then it came my turn. I made it past 20, 30, then 40, and I was
really starting to get the big head. 45 came and went with no problems
until the 48th pound was added. When that 48th pound was added my little
bridge went crashing down. "Oh well," I thought, "I am still the leader."
Then my buddy put his on the platform. Weights were added to his all up the
scale just like mine, but then his went past 48 pounds and my heart sank. I
knew I had been beat. Not only did his hold 50 pounds, it did not break
until it had over 70 pounds on it. Not only did he win, he sat a new record
for the entire school.

My heart was broken, but that sorrow turned to anger when I investigated my bridge remains. As I looked at where my structure had failed I made a discovery that made me angry at myself. I discovered that one of my vertical support posts had not been glued. I had notched it out and placed it where it was supposed to go, but I had forgot to glue the joint. There was no glue residue anywhere on that one joint and that was exactly where my bridge failed. I kicked myself for that for a few weeks,
but it taught me a valuable lesson about how one weak link can cause the
entire structure to fail.

As You consider your spiritual life this evening or whenever you may read
this, I wonder if there are weak links within your spiritual life. Are
there areas in your life that are going to cause you to come apart and crash
under the weight of life? I wish I could answer that for each of you, but I
if could I wonder how many of you who will read this would want me to tell
you? It is not always the most comfortable of scenarios to have someone
expose our weaknesses. Trust me, I have been on the receiving end of the
exposing. But as I look back on my life I am so thankful for those people
who had the courage to expose my weak links. I have prayed over and over
again that the Lord would give me a teachable spirit when I have an area
that I need to change. Some of you have even heard me say that, "I am not
smart, but I'm teachable." It is one of my favorite sayings and it is one
that I live by. I have no desire to be smart if it blinds me to the danger
areas of my life that make we weak in the Lord. I would much rather be
teachable and willing to listen when the Lord speaks to my heart. It is my
prayer just now that each of you will be willing to let the Lord show you
your weak links so that you can surrender them to Him and allow Him to apply
that heavenly glue that will hold you together in the storms of life.

Dear Father God,
We thank You once again for giving us the Sabbath that we can come apart
from the care of this world and simply live our lives for You. Lord, as we
think about weak areas in our life, I pray that You would send Your Holy
Spirit to convict our hearts of the areas that need to be addressed. There
are things that each of us have in our lives that we need to let go of and I
pray that You would pour out a measure of grace that would wash open our
eyes that we may see our defects on character. We need You so badly Lord
Jesus, and we need You Holy Spirit. May we not live another day without
surrendering everything to You. By Your grace Lord, may we not break when
the weight of life is added to us. In Christ's name we pray, Amen.