The Evangelist on the Titanic

800px-RMS_Titanic_3Today marks the 103rd anniversary of the most famous boating accident in history. On April 14, 1912 the Titanic struck an iceberg at 11:40pm. It sank into its watery grave on April 15, 1912 at 2:20am. The vessel settled 13,000 feet below the surface 400 miles off of Newfoundland, Canada. The wreckage, discovered in 1985, sits as a haunting monument to the ship that was hailed as the unsinkable ship. The maximum capacity on the lifeboats was not enough to rescue everyone aboard. As we now know, death awaited 1500 of the 2200 aboard that fateful night. While the ship was sinking, the good news of Jesus Christ was preached to those on board in the waning minutes of life. A man named John Harper used the last moments of his life to talk to others about their eternal destiny. Here’s the account as published online by Dan Graves, “While Titanic Sank, John Harper Preached.” Even though 1500 people entered eternity that night, perhaps some received the gift of eternal life as a result of one man’s faithful witness of Christ’s love to those who were perishing.

The clear April night sky was filled with sparkling stars as the largest and finest steamship in the world sped through the calm seas of the icy North Atlantic. Many of the passengers had gone to bed, but some still could be found in the lounges, enjoying the Titanic’s luxury. No one was alarmed by the slight jar felt around 11:15, but many noticed when they no longer felt the vibrations of the engines.

Ignoring iceberg warnings, the Titanic had been steaming full speed ahead. Suddenly she struck a large iceberg which ripped her side. Within fifteen minutes the captain realized the danger of the situation, and the wireless operator put out a call for assistance. Sailors made lifeboats ready and ordered women and children to get into them first (Christian culture had stamped the ideas of chivalry into men, making them willing to give up their lives for women and children as their protectors, something rarely seen in other cultures). There were 12 honeymooning couples on board the ship. Though all of the brides were saved, only one of the grooms survived.

The captain ordered the band to play to keep up the spirits of the passengers. It began playing a rag-time tune, but soon was playing hymns.

There were only twenty lifeboats on the huge ocean liner– barely enough for 1/3 of the passengers and crew. Not all of them could be lowered. All 85 engineers continued to work to keep the ship afloat as long as possible. At the end many people knelt together in prayer until the waters covered them.

Throughout the mournful, evacuation, with loved ones being tearfully separated, the band continued to play. There is some dispute about what was played that night. Several people in the life boats heard “Nearer My God to Thee.”

One of the passengers traveling on the ship was evangelist John Harper. He put his six-year old daughter into a life boat and then ran through the ship warning others of the danger and talking to them about the eternal destiny of their souls. When he was finally forced to jump into the icy water, he clung to a piece of wreckage and asked another man “Are you saved?” When the man answered no, John said to him, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.”

When the Titanic sank early in the morning on this day, April 15, 1912, John Harper was among the 1,522 people who died. The band went down with the ship. The last hymn they played was “Autumn,” which concludes with the prayer

Hold me up in mighty waters
Keep my eyes on things above,
Righteousness, divine Atonement,
Peace, and everlasting Love.

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Devotional Ruminations: Galatians 2:1-10

My devotional ruminations are just that–devotional thoughts that come from my personal time in Scripture. These ruminations include basic observations and questions (some of which will remain unanswered).  I read Galatians 2:1-10 this morning.

Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me. [2] I went up because of a revelation and set before them (though privately before those who seemed influential) the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure I was not running or had not run in vain. [3] But even Titus, who was with me, was not forced to be circumcised, though he was a Greek. [4] Yet because of false brothers secretly brought in—who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery—[5] to them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you. [6] And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me. [7] On the contrary, when they saw that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised [8] (for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles), [9] and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. [10] Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do (Galatians 2:1-10 ESV).

Here are a few observations I took away from this passage.  I was impressed by six characteristics in Paul’s life.

  1. Commission.  Paul was driven to carry out the commission given to him by Christ.  “…in order to make sure that I was not running or had not run in vain” (v. 2).  Paul was committed to his Christ-given commission.
  2. Conviction.  Paul was held by the unwavering truth of the gospel. “to them we did not yield is submission even for a moment so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (v. 5).  Paul was driven by unwavering gospel conviction.
  3. Courage.  Paul’s gospel conviction led to courage.  “…what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality” (v. 6).  Paul wasn’t wrongly swayed by influential people.
  4. Calling.  Paul had a very clear and compelling sense of calling on his life.  It was specific.  “I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised” (v. 7).
  5. Community.  Paul recognized that he had co-laborers in his gospel work.  “and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (v. 9).
  6. Compassion. Paul was a man driven by conviction yet he was compassionate. “Only they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do” (v. 10).

These characteristics remind me of the kind of intentional and missional life that grow out of a person who holds to and is held by the gospel.

Four Ways to Prepare for Palm Sunday

palm-sundayPalm Sunday marks the beginning of what we know as Passion Week or Holy Week.  Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  The term “Passion” in Passion Week refers to the inhumane suffering Jesus experienced on the cross to make redemption possible for mankind.  The Passion Week is crowned with Easter or Resurrection Sunday.  Christians make much of the Easter season because the events, Jesus’ death and resurrection, are the two pillars of the Christian good news.  “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, [4] that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, [5] and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).  The gospel is the sun in the universe of what Christians believe.  In sum, the events we remember during the Easter season display that fundamental truth God did for us in Christ what we could never do for ourselves.  “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Romans 8:3).  Because the Easter season sets before us the most precious and essential truth of the gospel, we should prepare ourselves so that we can spiritually benefit from the Easter season.  In the spirit of preparing ourselves to spiritually profit from the Easter season, here are four ways to prepare for Palm Sunday.

  1. Read the triumphal entry passages in the gospels.  All four gospels record Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem: Matthew 21:1-11; Mark 11:1-11; Luke 19:28-44; John 12:12-19.  All four accounts reveal the significance of the triumphal entry.  It was a profoundly important event in Jesus’ life.
  2. Reflect on the significance of the triumphal entry.  Jesus was introduced as King!  This has major implications for here & now and then & there.  The here & now implication is that we should pay homage to the King and give our lives in service to Him.  The then & there implication is that He will reign as King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 7:9; 17:14; 19:16).
  3. Delight that the King came to deliver you from the kingdom of darkness and that, by grace alone through faith alone, He transferred you into His kingdom.  “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, [14] in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 1:13-14).  Do this corporately on Sunday.  Gather with other kingdom constituents and worship the King.

O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise
(Robert Grant, “O Worship the King,” 1833)

  1. Commit or recommit yourself to the King.  There is no better time than Palm Sunday than to yield yourself to the King for the first time or anew.  Is Jesus your King?  If not, why not?  There are are only two ways to live.  If He is, does your life reveal complete allegiance to Him?

And Their Eyes Were Opened: A Life-Changing Encounter with the Risen Christ

If you are an unbelieving skeptic about the resurrection, you’re not alone.  So were the first followers of Jesus,

But these words [the report of the empty tomb] seemed as an idle tale, and they did not believe them (Luke 24:11).

Theirs was a raw but open faith.  When they encountered and communed with the risen Christ, their eyes were opened,

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. [31] And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him . . . (Luke 24:30-31)

I pray that many professing Christians’ faith would be strengthened on Resurrection Sunday.

Maybe you are on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Arms crossed, as it were, when it comes to embracing the Christian faith as your own.  Naturalism has gripped your sensibilities and so you reject a system of faith that centers on supernatural events like the resurrection of Jesus.  It is true that Christianity is a supernatural religion but it is false to believe that the natural world and this life is all there is.  My prayer for you is that God would take your unbelief and skepticism and grant you belief and conviction in the resurrected Christ by means of repentance and faith,

testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21)

If Jesus is not your Savior, He will be your Judge in the life to come.  The resurrection is proof of this, as the Apostle Paul told the Greeks in the Athens,

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, [31] because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:30-31)

Receive the gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life that Jesus offers–now–while you have breath.  As Jesus Himself said,

to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:18)

and

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. [17] For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. [18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:16-18)

God receives all who come to Him, even if they come seeking the living among the dead,

It is, therefore, an astonishing display of the goodness of Christ, that he kindly, and generously presents himself alive to the women, who did no wrong in seeking him among the dead.  Now if he did not permit them to come in vain to his grave, we may conclude with certainty, that those who now aspire to him by faith will not be disappointed . . . (John Calvin, Commentaries, 17:340).

John Calvin’s comment on the resurrection narrative is nothing more than an echo of what Jesus said in the Gospel of John,

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out (John 6:37)

I pray that you will enter into a personal relationship with Christ.  Belief in the resurrection of Jesus is essential to conversion,

. . . if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9)

Once you have received Christ as your Savior, then you can join the joyful and victorious chorus of millions of Christian voices, who exclaim on Resurrection/Easter Sunday,

The Lord has risen indeed . . . (Luke 24:34)!

Evolution = Hopelessness to the Sufferer

On suffering and the “why” question, the 6.9 out of 7.0 agnostic Richard Dawkins essentially says don’t bother asking.  In his final chapter of The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, Dawkins expands on each line in Darwin’s last paragraph of On the Origin of Species.  As Dawkins develops the line “From the war of nature, from famine and death,” he argues that nature has a “serene indifference” to suffering.

Yes there is grandeur in the view of this life, and even a kind of grandeur in nature’s serene indifference to the suffering that inexorably follows in the wake of its guiding principle, survival of the fittest (Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution [New York: Free Press, 2009], 401).

This is the best evolution has to offer to the suffering human race; this is best bedside comfort Darwinism offers a dying person.  Give him credit for consistency.  Nevertheless, indifference to suffering is part of the DNA of natural selection.   What an arid, inhumane worldview.

Contrast this to the Christian worldview in which there is a Creator, who is neither detached nor indifferent to human suffering.  In fact, He entered into it by sending His son, Jesus Christ to live and die among us.  His Son suffered on the cross and rose again on the third day so that suffering brought on by sin would one day be entirely eradicated.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Ideas have consequences, don’t they?  One may argue that on its face evolution is scientifically sophisticated (though this premise is not at all firmly or finally established).  Even if it were, it is absolutely useless for offering hope to a suffering human race.

Respectable Accomodation?

Douglas Wilson wrote a good word in an article reflecting on the death of Christopher Hitchens, “Christopher Hitchens Has Died, Doug Wilson Reflects“.  As I read and interacted with Hitchens’ writings, I found that Hitchens’ was likeable.  I haven’t found the same to be true about the others who are of the same philosophical ilk as Hitchens, such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.  Consequently, the news of Hitchens’ death saddened me.  What is even more sad is that Hitchens’ views led him down a path that now is unalterable.  The Lord knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19).  If Hitchens repented of his sins and placed his faith in Christ, the Lord knows it and has welcomed Hitchens into heaven on the merits of His Son, Jesus Christ.  If he didn’t, the Lord knows this too and Hitchens will spend an eternity in hell away from the presence of the Lord he rejected (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

One part of Wilson’s article caught my attention because I’m teaching a class at church on the gospel and evangelism.  This Sunday we will talk about the importance of knowing, believing, and defending our faith.  Wilson mentioned this in his article.  You cannot approach a person like Hitchens and be tentative about your faith.  You cannot strive for respectability and accommodation at the same time.  You either believe it with conviction or why bother.  I hope this citation spurs you on to be a Christian who holds your faith with conviction instead of seeking to accommodate for the sake of respectability.  It won’t work.  Here’s what Wilson said,

So we [Hitchens and Wilson] got on well with each other, because each of us knew where the other one stood. Eugene Genovese, before he became a believer, once commented on the tendency that some have to try to garner respect by giving away portions, big or small, of what they profess to believe. “If other religions offer equally valid ways to salvation and if Christianity itself may be understood solely as a code of morals and ethics, then we may as well all become Buddhists or, better, atheists. I intend no offense, but it takes one to know one. And when I read much Protestant theology and religious history today, I have the warm feeling that I am in the company of fellow unbelievers” (The Southern Front, pp. 9–10). Ironically, the branch of the faith most interested in getting the “cultured despisers” to pay us some respect is really not that effective, and this is a strategy that can frequently be found on the pointed end of its own petard. Respectability depends on not caring too much about respectability. Unbelievers can smell accommodation, and when someone like Christopher meets someone who actually believes all the articles in the Creed, including that part about Jesus coming back from the dead, it delights him. Here is someone actually willing to defend what is being attacked. Militant atheists are often exasperated with opponents whose strategy appears to be “surrender slowly.”

Missional Calibration

I’m enjoying What is the Mission of the Church? by Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert (author of What is the Gospel?).  They offer a clear and concise statement on what mission looks like in Acts.  While this statement needs elaboration (and they do develop it), it provides a helpful calibration of what the church’s mission does and doesn’t include in Acts.  Insofar as this statement accurately reflects the scope and nature of mission in Acts, it helps us better understand what defines the church’s mission in the 21st century.  

The book of Acts is especially important because in it we can actually see the scope and nature of the earliest Christian mission.  If you are looking for a picture of the early church giving itself to creation care, plans for societal renewal, and strategies to serve the community in Jesus’ name, you won’t find them in Acts.  But if you are looking for preaching, teaching, and the centrality of the Word, this is your book.  The story of Acts is the story of the earliest Christians’ efforts to carry out the commission given to them in Acts 1:8 (Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, What is the Mission of the Church?  Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011], 49).