Firefighters in the Los Angeles Fire Department found a creative way to find and rescue a lost teenager. When thirteen-year-old Jesse Hernandez plunged 25 feet into a four-foot-wide sewer pipe after walking on some wooden planks in an abandoned building, rescuers turned to a superhero-inspired solution to help locate the young boy. rescue

The search, which lasted 13 hours, was a race against time as survivability diminishes in that toxic environment according to Erik Scott with the Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD). More than 100 firefighters searched 2,400 feet of pipe in a maze of a sewer system that has different depths of water moving at around 15 miles per hour.

Since the hazardous environment prevented crews from wading in directly, firefighters strapped a camera to a flotation device, and used its signal along with other “Batman-like tools” to track the boy’s location, identifying the handprints he left on the pipe walls along the way.

Rescuers found Hernandez a mile east of where he accidentally entered the sewer pipe. After the rescue, LAFD personnel gave him a cell phone to call his parents, obviously quite relieved.

I love that the LAFD found a creative way to find and rescue Hernandez. But I am forever grateful that the Creator of the Universe sent His one and only Son into the hazardous environment of our sin-filled world. Through the life, death, resurrection, and saving power of Jesus Christ, we can be rescued forever.

This past Saturday I preached Mrs. Edna’s funeral. She had lived more than ninety years on the earth, although she actually fell a little less than a decade of her goal. I noted at the funeral that everyone of us had our “Edna stories” that were actually our own precious treasures. Rather than rehearsing a few of those choice stories, I urged those in attendance to treasure the hidden anecdotes that we had hidden in our memories.

Edna knew the Lord, and at life’s end, that’s all that really matters. It’s not about accumulating wealth, titles, properties, or fame. It’s what a person did with Jesus that matters. Edna had trusted Christ in life, and she had trusted Him in death.

The sorrow we felt at Edna’s funeral was not hers. No, the sorrow we felt was ours. We lost a friend who had made us laugh and cry. She was someone we enjoyed and sometimes just put up with!

The apostle Paul wrote these words to the church in Corinth: For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). The word “know” in this verse means “assurance borne out of conviction,” so Paul knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that death did not signal the end of a person’s existence. He used the word “tent” as a synonym for our earthly existence or life, calling it “our earthly home.” In contrast to “tent,” Paul said that “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands.”

We would do well to remember that when Jesus left His rightful place in heaven that the apostle John describe it as “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, ESV). John’s word for dwell literally means “to pitch a tent” or “to tabernacle.” In other words, when Christ came to the earth, He lived as a human being — “He pitched His tent among us.” When He had accomplished His mission on earth — His death, burial, and resurrection — He returned to His Father in heaven.

Scientists tell us that the cells in the human body continually die and replenish so that every seven years we get an entirely new body. That means that Edna had lived in several bodies! We did not weep for her when she moved from the first to the second or imagesthe fifth or the sixth or even the twelfth! Why should we weep now when she moved from her earthly tent into the wonderful house that the Lord has prepared for her?

 

Paul said that when this old earthly tent is worn out and is no longer fit for habitation, we move into “a building from God, a house not made with hands.” A building has a foundation, suggesting a permanent house and not a tent. This new house is an eternal dwelling place.

Edna lived in several places since I’ve known her. Some of them were nicer than others. But now, Edna has moved again! And we should be happy for her! Let me offer some more words of encouragement from Paul, “So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord….Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:6,8, ESV). Note the words “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” There’s no in between time.

Death is a part of life just as much as birth is a part of life. Let’s just suppose for a moment that Edna could have reasoned in her prenatal state. “Something is about to happen to me. I’m about to leave the only place I’ve ever known. It’s good in here. I’m safe. I’m well-nourished. I’m going somewhere I’ve never been. This must be death.” When the reality is that she discovered birth, not death. She left the narrow confines of her mother’s womb to discover a far greater and richer life.

In the same vein, let’s suppose that a few hours before Edna underwent another change on Tuesday afternoon. Again she reasoned, “Something is about to happen to me. I am about to leave the only place of life I have ever known. Surely this must be death.”

But if Edna could speak to us, she would undoubtedly say, “No, I was wrong again. What I thought was death was another birth out of the human flesh experience to the superlative life of heaven. It’s far greater and richer than I could have ever imagined.

At a June 13, 2008, event honoring John Wooden and famed sportscaster Vin Scully and raising money for pediatric cancer research at UCLA and other local institutions, Coach Wooden had an opportunity to demonstrate his famed socks-and-shoes lessons.

Wooden began the first day of practice each year with his most important basketball lesson. Players gathering for that first day  were full of anticipation. They wondered how their coach would set the tone for the long season to come. They didn’t have to wait long. Socks

At the event one of Wooden’s most famous players, Bill Walton, introduced the coach and recalled his first days at UCLA as a basketball player. Walton related the shock that he and other new players felt when the first thing Wooden did was set them down and teach them how to put on their shoes and socks. Doing this properly, Walton said, was the initial lesson for “everything we would need to know for the rest of our lives.”

Following Walton’s introduction, Coach Wooden came out on stage holding a box with athletic shoes and socks, bringing with him 12-year-old Robert, who was introduced as having tackled cancer at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA. There was much good-natured laughter as Wooden gave Robert the socks-and-shoes instructions.

“You know, basketball is a game that’s played on a hardwood floor,” Wooden said. “And to be good, you have to…change your direction, change your pace. That’s hard on your feet. Your feet are very important.”

The team veterans knew this lesson was coming at the first practice, but  first year players were no doubt perplexed by the initial lesson imparted by their Hall of Fame coach: He taught them how to put on a pair of socks. He did not teach this lesson only once, but before every game and practice. Why?

Wooden had discovered many players didn’t properly smooth out wrinkles in the socks around their heels and little toes. If left uncorrected, these wrinkles could cause blisters that could hamper their performance at crucial times during games. Many players thought the practice odd and laughed about it then. Wooden knows some of them still laugh about it today. But the coach would not compromise on this basic fundamental principle: “I stuck to it. I believed in that, and I insisted on it.”

In our desire to grow as Christians, we can easily forget about the fundamentals of our faith. If we do, we run the risk of developing painful spiritual blisters that can hurt us as we run our race.

 

This week I attended a pastors’ conference that encouraged me greatly. Greg Gilbert, who serves as the senior pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, led the conference. The Lord used Greg to speak into my heart from the story of Joseph in Genesis 37-50. He noted that this story was not as much about Joseph as it was about God. When I told Gayla about it, she said, “The story of Joseph has always been one of my favorites because of what God did in Joseph’s life.”

I’d like to share the lessons I learned from Joseph. The main idea of the narrative is that whatever your circumstances remember that God has a purpose for it all even if it is not what you want or expect. With my recent experience of having stepped down as pastor of my church, I can assure you that these words resonated with me with particular power. Greg offered five points of application from Joseph’s life.

First, whatever circumstances you find yourself in, remember that you work for the Lord. Joseph worked for several different people — his father, Potiphar, the chief jailer, Pharaoh. But he really worked for God no matter who his earthly boss may have been. Problems can come in our ministry when we make an idol of our ministry. It’s easy to fall into a trap of believing everything revolves around us. You can begin to believe that you deserve certain things. Problems can also come when you become idle in the heart. You must keep the spiritual fire alive by washing yourself in the Word. You cannot continue to work effectively for the Lord without His strengthening.

Second, remember that God is sovereign over every detail of your life. Joseph knew that God allowed all the things to happen to him. The dreams of Genesis 37 reveal the end of the story, but they aren’t there to kill the plot. God was “calling His shot” (kind of like Babe Ruth calling his famous home run). Joseph delivered the clinching line, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20).  You need to learn to rest in God’s sovereignty. There’s nothing that happens without God’s ordination and permission. God rules without exception. (Boy, did I needed that!)

Third, because God is sovereign you need to work hard to develop a patient quiet trust in God. Joseph had a remarkable confidence in God. He doesn’t know what is going to happen, but continued to be confident. Consider his resolve even after being thrown into the pit by his brothers. Consider his resolve even after two plus years in the prison. What a great model! It would have been so easy to give up on God. You need to remember that God’s providence is longer than your life.

Fourth, whatever your circumstances, learn to be joyful and serve well where you are placed. Wherever Joseph served, he served his master well. There was no indication that he complained — even when he was falsely accused or forgotten in the prison. When I left my last church, I determined that the Lord was not finished with me and that I would still serve Him. God has faithfully provided opportunities for me to preach or teach.

Fifth, leave the results to God. To be sure, some of the preaching opportunities have been humbling, but I have rejoiced in knowing that He knows where I am and that He has appointed these opportunities for me. I also remain confident that He has a more permanent assignment for me in the future. Therefore, I will work faithfully for Him through this present period in my ministry. Taking Joseph as my example, I will not attempt to wrangle circumstances for my advantage.

As Greg concluded his talk, he took time to observe how irrelevant Joseph is for the rest of the Bible. Although Moses focused on his story from Genesis 37-50, Joseph barely gets mentioned for the rest of the Bible. He was so important in Genesis — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph — the patriarchs. But in Matthew, the record says, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah. What a shocker! But this only underscores that God does what He wants — not what we want or expect. God is sovereign; therefore, we would do well to leave the results to God.

Here’s what I think God wants us to get: He is so unpredictable because He wants us to cling to Him.

 

After a long night and day of marching, General Robert E. Lee and the exhausted Army of Northern Virginia made camp just east of Appomattox Courthouse on April 8, 1865. Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant had sent him a letter on the night of April 7, following confrontations between their troops at Cumberland Church and Farmville, suggesting Lee surrender. Lee refused. Grant replied, again suggesting surrender to end the bloodshed. Lee responded, saying in part, “I do not think that emergency has arisen to call for the surrender of this army,” though he offered to meet Grant at 10 the next morning between picket lines to discuss a peaceful outcome.

In planning for the next day, Lee informed his men that he would ignore the surrender request and attempt to fend off General Philip Sheridan’s cavalry while at least part of the Army of Northern Virginia moved on toward Lynchburg — assuming the main Union force was just calvary. However, Major General George G. Meade’s VI and II Corps pursued the greatly outnumbered Confederate troops.

Having watched the battle through field glasses, Lee said, “There is nothing left for me to do but go and see General Grant, and I would rather die a thousand deaths.” Having dressed that morning in his finest dress uniform, Lee rode to the spot where he thought he and Grant would meet between the picket lines for peace talks only to receive a message of Grant’s refusal to meet.

Lee quickly wrote a reply, indicating that he was now ready to surrender. Still hearing the sounds of fighting, Lee sent a letter to Meade requesting an immediate truce along the lines. Meade replied that he was not in communication with Grant but would send the message on and also suggest Lee send another letter to Grant via Sheridan. Lee also had Confederate Major General John B. Gordon place flags of truce along the line. As the messages moved through the lines and word of the surrender spread, the fighting stopped.

Grant received Lee’s letter of surrender just before noon. In his reply, Grant asked Lee to select a meeting place. In searching for a suitable place, Lee and his men encountered Wilmer McLean, who offered his own home for the meeting. Grant arrived in Appomattox about 1:30 in the afternoon and proceeded to the McLean house. His appearance in his field uniform, muddy after his long ride, contrasted sharply with Lee’s clean dress uniform. They chatted for a while before discussing and writing up the terms of the surrender.

The terms were surprising. It wasn’t judgment — nor prison — nor retribution. The terms were to stop fighting and to start living. Give up your weapons, go home, and plant your fields. The soldiers who had not eaten in days were given meal rations. Their horses and mules returned to plowing fields. The war was over but for many people, life had just begun.

A kind word can turn away wrath. Good things happen when we can weep with those who weep. Acting like Jesus sometimes means seeing past someone’s behavior and into their need.

If you’ve been hurt, the best next step for you is to forgive that person. Holding onto the hurt will only make the hurt worse.

On November 5, 2014, a woman named, Gigi Jordan was declared guilty of killing her 8-year old son who had autism. Her defense attorney said her act could only be described as a mercy killing.

How could this be? Gigi Jordan said her ex-husband had threatened her life; therefore, she did not want Jude, her 8-year old son to fall into the hands of his biological father. This woman, a multi-millionaire, declared that she loved her son so much that she could not bear the thought of him living without her, Therefore, she poisoned her son and killed him.

For her crime, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Charles Simpson issued a stiff sentence — 18 years in prison. Simpson commented, “You would think in 2015, the defendant would say something like, ‘What a terrible thing I did. How could I kill my own son?'”

This kind of twisted thinking in our culture today, demeans the purpose of each person who lives.  It places one person over another, as one having a purpose and a destiny, while another does not. This is what happens when a culture for the almost 45 years has aborted more than 60 million babies, an entire generation. sanctity-of-life

I declare in Jesus’ name today that every baby and every child and every teenager and every adult has a purpose for their lives. Whether they are healthy or whether they face struggles like Down’s Syndrome or autism or whatever other birth defect, every life has a purpose under God. God has a purpose for every life.

Because I live in Louisiana, I will offer some statistics from that perspective. Even so, I am sure that similar statistics could be offered for the other forty-nine states. As is the case in the United States as a whole, suicide rates are on the rise in Louisiana. According to the American Society for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in Louisiana, and was responsible for 679 deaths in 2016.  This figure puts the suicide rate in Louisiana above the national average. To put this data into perspective, this rate means that, on average, one person dies every 13 hours from suicide in Louisiana.  Sadly, it appears that loss of life from suicide is a particular risk for young people, with suicide representing the third leading cause of death for Louisianans ages 15-34. To be sure, we have a mental health crisis.

Listen to me today, whether a person has mental health challenges (according to research one out of four Americans has some sort of challenge) or people are completely healthy in every way, I declare in Jesus’ name, God has a purpose for their life. Human life is not in the hands of men, but in the hands of God.

We do not have the right to take innocent life. Whether this takes place in a fit of rage or under the approval of the courts through upholding abortion procedures, no one has the ultimate right to live and act in a way contrary to the dictates of God’s revealed truth.

 

 

In an interview with Cindy Pearlman published in The Chicago Sun Times (October 13, 2014), actor Bill Murray claimed that a work of art once saved his life. He was in Chicago for his first experience as an actor. He thought that his first performance had gone so badly that he just walked out afterward and onto the street. He kept walking for a couple of hours. Then he realized that he walked in the wrong direction and not in just the wrong direction from where he lived, but in the desire to stay alive.

He headed for Lake Michigan as he contemplated taking his own life. Murray continued:

“I thought: ‘If I’m going to die, I might as well go over toward the lake and float a bit.’ So, I walked toward the lake and reached Michigan Avenue and started walking north. Somehow I ended up in front of the Art Institute and walked inside. the-song-of-the-lark-1884.jpg!LargeThere was a painting of a woman working in a field with a sunrise behind her. I always loved that painting. I saw it that night and said, ‘Look, there’s a girl without a whole lot of prospects, but the sun’s coming up and she’s got another chance at it.'”

The painting, “Song of a Lark” by Jules Breton, helped mend Murray’s heart. After gazing at the painting, Murray decided to live and said, “I’m a person, too, and will get another chance every single day.”

When Peter addressed “the exiles dispersed abroad” throughout five Roman provinces (see 1 Peter 1:1), he wrote to encourage them as they faced uncertainty due to persecution. Having been forced to leave their homes, their jobs, their friends, their way of life, these believers needed exactly what Peter offered — encouragement to remain faithful and strong in the Lord.

That encouragement remains intact for believers today! God has given each believer a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This new birth comes with an inheritance that is untouched by death, unstained by evil, and unimpaired by time. Furthermore what God has given to the believer is being guarded by God’s power. Not only that, but the fullness of our eternal salvation is ready now to be revealed when He returns (see 1 Peter 3-5).

You have every reason to live for today because God has your today and forever covered.