Christianity 201

August 19, 2014

A Message to Prime Ministers, Presidents and Kings

We continue today with weekly contributor Clarke Dixon.  You can also read this at his blog by clicking the title below:

Biblical Message to World Rulers: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid. Reflections on Psalm 2

There is no shortage of rulers, now, and in recent memory, who have plunged or kept the people under their care into darkness. We think of Bin Laden and the recruitment of people into lives of terror. We think of the Taliban and remember the dismal treatment of women. We think of Boko Haram and the atrocities committed of late. We think of those associated with the new “Islamic State” and the reports of beheadings, kidnappings, forced conversions, and executions. Already the rulers of these organizations are responsible for thousands dead and thousands more living in terror this year. But we can also look back to other atrocities within living memory. There is Hitler responsible for 10 million deaths, 6 million of which were Jews, and we are not even counting those who died in battle from the war he started. Stalin is said to be responsible for 7-13 million dead, some say much more. Mao is said to be responsible for 40-50 million dead. How many more lived, but lived in terror? These rulers and all like them have something in common beyond being responsible for plunging people into darkness: they are mentioned in the Bible. Consider:

1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1-3 NRSV)

These verses originally speak to the rulers surrounding Israel in Old Testament times, and the “anointed” referred to the earthly king of Israel. But they also point to Jesus Christ as true King, and to rulers throughout all of history and even today who operate in ways that are far from the Kingdom ways of the Lord. No thought is given by all such rulers to the possibility that Jesus Christ is “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16) and that they are subject to His rule. They are expected to follow Christ as they lead others.

Since Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, He has the right, in fact the obligation, to execute justice with regards to those who rule:

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(Psalm 2:4-9 NRSV emphasis mine)

Revelation makes the connection between Psalm 2 and Jesus quite clear:

15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:15-16 NRSV emphasis mine)

Keep reading in Revelation and you will learn what happens next to “the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty” (v18). It is not pretty.

Can you imagine that day, when the each ruler of the earth will stand before the judgement seat of Christ to give an account for how they ruled? Can you imagine the questions that will be posed to them?

  • Why did you not follow Me? Why did you not follow the example I set of servant leadership? I am the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. Why did you not do likewise?
  • Why did you not lead people to Me? Is it not your duty as a leader, as a shepherd, to lead your people to greener pastures? Why did you instead plunge them into darkness?
  • Why are you making excuses? Did you not notice the greener pastures? Did you not see the positive impact My people have had in the world, wherever they have been truly following Me?
  • Why are you making excuses? Did you not notice how people have been following Me for many, many, many generations. Did you seriously think Christianity was just a passing fad? Did it never cross your mind that maybe your rule and your cause was the passing fad?
  • Did you stop to consider the positive impact upon your people had you drawn close to Me? The potential was too profound to ignore the possibilities.
  • Did you stop to consider the eternal implications for you in your relationship with Me? The potential was too profound to ignore the possibility.
  • Did you put any effort at all into exploring the evidence for My claim to being your Lord? Did you ponder the evidence for the truth of Christianity? As a leader, ought you not to have taken a lead in the most important questions ever asked?

Can you imagine it? And can you imagine what would happen if rulers everywhere would seriously explore the Christian faith? Can you imagine what kind of world we would live in if rulers everywhere would repent from their sins and turn to the Lord following the example of the Good Shepherd who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NRSV)?

Final questions: Are you aware that you have people in your realm of influence? Are you aware that you may be considered a ruler of this earth? Are you aware that those same questions could be posed to you?

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling 12 kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2:10-12 NRSV)

Let us pray for those who are living in darkness. Let us pray for the rulers who plunge or keep their people in darkness. Let us be encouraged that this world’s story is far from over and that darkness will give way to light. Let us pray that we will serve well, whenever and wherever we reign, and that in doing so we will reflect light into the lives of our families, friends, and enemies.

February 9, 2013

The One Who Will Judge is Non-Judgmental

I believe in God,
the Father almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
he descended into hell;
on the third day he rose again from the dead;
he ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty;
from there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting. Amen

~Apostles Creed  (see also a musical adaptation)

This week we went to an event that featured Steve Geyer, who was billed as a comedian, but really shared his heart for over two hours in a much more pastoral sense.

In one section he spoke about the surprising and unexpected things that take place in the earthly ministry of Jesus; things where the events and people and situations get turned on their heads, including the time Jesus is anointed with perfume by an uninvited guest to a party.

Three gospels carry this story. Mark  (chapter 14) who is usually much more concise gives us more than Matthew

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. “But not during the festival,” they said, “or the people may riot.”

While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly.

“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

10 Then Judas Iscariot, one of the Twelve, went to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them.

Luke 7 is considered to be a different story that took place at a different time, but is a similar story that includes a parable that Jesus teaches:

36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

As Steve Geyer referred briefly to this story he said,

“The One who will judge the earth is non-judgmental.”

That phrase really hit me. Here we see another example of the contrast between “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild;” (itself not a fully accurate rendering of the earthly ministry of Jesus) and the one who sits at God’s right hand from where “he will come to judge the living and the dead.” Mercy contrasted with justice. God’s love versus God’s judgment.

John 5:24 “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.

Acts 10:39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

Matthew 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.

Jesus pours out love and compassion to so many in the gospel narratives, but just as a parent gently loves a child, so also does a parent not hesitate to bring rebuke, correction and discipline. (See this link for an interesting parallel between that and the work of the scriptures in our lives.) God’s justice must be satisfied, and yet, as I ponder Steve’s statement, I see even there a justice that is tempered by mercy and grace.


Even though today’s story may not be exactly in all four gospels, I did a check to see what teachings/stories are found in all four gospels:

  • Feeding the 5,000
  • Identification of the betrayer at the Last Supper
  • Jesus prays in Gethsemane
  • Peter’s denials
  • various elements of the death and resurrection

Scriptures quoted today are NIV; all underlinings in the creed and Bible verses added.

September 29, 2012

Unauthorized Fire

Leviticus 10:1 (NIV) Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to his command. So fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord spoke of when he said:

“‘Among those who approach me
    I will be proved holy;
in the sight of all the people
    I will be honored.’”

Aaron remained silent.

Moses summoned Mishael and Elzaphan, sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, “Come here; carry your cousins outside the camp, away from the front of the sanctuary.” So they came and carried them, still in their tunics, outside the camp, as Moses ordered.

Then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, “Do not let your hair become unkempt and do not tear your clothes, or you will die and the Lord will be angry with the whole community. But your relatives, all the Israelites, may mourn for those the Lord has destroyed by fire. Do not leave the entrance to the tent of meeting or you will die, because the Lord’s anointing oil is on you.” So they did as Moses said.

Then the Lord said to Aaron, “You and your sons are not to drink wine or other fermented drink whenever you go into the tent of meeting, or you will die. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come, 10 so that you can distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so you can teach the Israelites all the decrees the Lord has given them through Moses.”

Today we jump back to the book What Would Jesus Read by Joe Amaral and consider two more readings related to Leviticus.

Leviticus 10:1
They offered unauthorized fire

Aaron’s sons offered unauthorized fire to God.  God struck them dead as a result of their sin.  Seems a little strong, yet that is what the Scripture records.  God is love and God is fair, but God is also just.  We like to forget that sometimes.

Many Christians are taught that the God of the New Testament is not the God of the Old Testament – that the God of the New Testament is filled with love and compassion, and the God of the Old Testament is a violent, cruel, and angry God.  That is simply not the case.  The Bible says in Malachi 3:6, “I the LORD do not change.”

We need to understand the holiness and justness of God.  He is slow to anger and he is willing to bless and love for a thousand generations.  But we have to live in the reality that there are consequences to sin.

A police officer may forgive us for running a red light, but we still have to pay the fine.  We must learn to live in reverent fear before the Lord and to walk in His ways.  He is a loving God who guides our steps, even when we sometimes veer off the path.


Leviticus 10:7
So they did as Moses said

Have you ever used the term “scared to death”?  That would apply to today’s passage.  The entire camp was literally scared to death.  Aaron’s two sons had just been killed for offering unauthorized fire.

God spoke through Moses, and the people did as Moses said.  You can be sure that no one was considering disobeying Moses after what had just happened.  This wasn’t the first time the people suffered death because of disobedience.  Remember at Mount Sinai when they worshiped the golden calf?  Three thousand were put to death that day.

People always judge the people of Israel for not “getting it.”  They always seemed to stray away from God, get punished, get forgiven, and then stray away again.  Let’s take a good long look in the mirror: are we any different today?  How many times have you been forgiven for the same sin?  We have all fought the same fight with our sins.

Let the fear of the Lord guide you as you strive to live for Him.  He has given us His Word to be a light.

~Joe Amaral in What Would Jesus Read? (FaithWords, 2012)

 

June 10, 2012

Merciful Judge

Saw this yesterday at the blog Jesus Carries Me and I knew it belonged here, too!  For best results (!) read this at source, where it appeared under the title,

The Judge who is Plentiful in Mercy

Isaiah 21:13-17New International Version (NIV)

13 A prophecy against Arabia:

You caravans of Dedanites,
    who camp in the thickets of Arabia,
14     bring water for the thirsty;
you who live in Tema,
    bring food for the fugitives.
15 They flee from the sword,
    from the drawn sword,
from the bent bow
    and from the heat of battle.

16 This is what the Lord says to me: “Within one year, as a servant bound by contract would count it, all the splendor of Kedar will come to an end. 17 The survivors of the archers, the warriors of Kedar, will be few. ” The Lord, the God of Israel, has spoken.

Although there are many who like to think of God as their fluffy little genie in the sky who will pander to all their selfish desires, the Bible paints a different picture. Yes, God is good. Yes, He delights in doing us good. But He is also a Judge –a righteous Judge at that.

He doesn’t turn a blind eye to hurts perpetrated against people. He doesn’t turn a blind eye against the wrong. But He is also a judge who is plentiful in mercy. In fact, He is a Judge who became a Savior. Therefore, in order to learn the truth about God’s character, we cannot separate the two –Judge and Savior. We have to study His judgments as much as we study His promises of goodwill.

The Scripture reference above is a judgement against Arabia. The Arabians were known as caravaners and were also notorious for robbing other caravaners. Disaster is about to hit this nation. They were well known as skillful archers but neither their skill, nor their strength or courage will be able to protect them against the judgments of God. This serves as a reminder for us to ensure that our treasures are stored up in a place that is safe from the invaders and thieves of this world. Where your treasure is there your heart will be also. What are we storing up? Where is our heart? Is it with things that can be shaken? At the end of the day only what cannot be shaken will remain. Paul writes to Timothy:

To put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (1 Timothy 6:17b-19)

You caravans of Dedanites, who camp in the thickets of Arabia, bring water for the thirsty

The prophecy starts by painting a picture of an evening scene as if it is saying that the sun is setting for Arabia. There is a call on the Dedanites to extend hospitality to those who will flee in fear from the threat of the approaching enemy. The Dedanites were merchants known for trading with the prolific port city of Tyre. Apparently they usually camped in the thick, hard-to-reach wooded areas of Arabia through which they usually enjoyed safe passage. They are called upon to give water to the thirsty fugitives. In a dry and arid land, giving someone water is seen as one of the greatest acts of hospitality. As the Arabians flee the enemy they will now become dependent on the kindness of others. The lesson here is that we should be generous in our help of others. We never know when it is our turn to be in need of the kindness of others.
You who live in Tema, bring food for the fugitives

The people who live inTema is also called upon to provide.  Tema is believed to have been an oasis. This indicates how the Arabians will experience a scarcity of basic necessities of food and water.

We see from these calls to Dedan and Tema, that although God brings His judgments against those who disobey Him, He still provides a way out of the danger and we see in the later verse that not all of the Arabians are destroyed. A small remnant is saved from the disaster.  The prophecy is given a year before the actual disaster takes giving those who hear it time to repent and change their ways. This is in line with God’s merciful character. Although He cannot turn His back on the wrong, He provides a way out. We have all sinned and fallen short of His glory. But He provided a way out for us to be made righteous. He provided a Substitute so that the judgement due to us will fall upon Christ Jesus. By faith in Him we escape the inevitable final judgement coming on this world.
All the splendor of Kedar will come to an end

Kedar was splendid in beauty, in power, riches and military strength but all these things were to be torn from them. They were excellently skilled as archers but this will not help them as the judgment of God comes against them. In Psalm 120:5 dwelling in the tents of Kedar is symbolic language for being cut off from the true worship of the true God. “Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar!” Sometimes, we look at what is splendid on the surface and we live by sight instead of by faith. This is a reminder that whatever looks grand in this world is destined for destruction and if we place our hope in these things we are bound to be terribly disappointed.

God is righteous. He is holy, but He will not leave us in our current state of hopelessness. He is merciful and will always provide a way out. If the Judge declares us innocent, who is there that can declare us guilty any longer?

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. (Romans 8:31b-34) NLT

April 21, 2012

Bible Teaches Individual Responsibility and Personal Accountability

With help from my wife and son, I’ve started a project where I hope to upload to YouTube a number of songs that I feel have some significance in the history of contemporary Christian music and/or modern worship, that simply don’t exist online at present. Most of these are songs for which the 25-year copyright limitations have lapsed, and this involves transferring them from vinyl records to digital and then uploading them.

One of the first songs I wanted to do was a John Fischer song which goes by two titles; you may know it as “Love Him in the Morning” or as “All Day Song,” its proper title.  I’ve also included it above, so it seemed fitting that today’s devotional should be from John’s blog, The Catch.

Indirectly, John deals with our propensity to think the gospel message applies to someone else, and not ourselves. “What about them?” is a rather common question.  This appeared at John’s blog under the more concise title, ‘What is that to you?’

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them… When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”(John 21:20-22)

There is a popular argument for not believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven. How could Jesus be the only way to heaven when not everyone on the planet has even heard about Jesus? Would a just and loving God condemn people to hell for the crime of growing up where they never heard about Jesus?

There is more than one approach to this question, but one of the most important is that introduced by the example of Jesus and Peter in the dialogue above. Peter is wondering how John was going to die, and Jesus says, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

What about the guy in another culture who never hears about Jesus? The answer is the same: “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

One has to already know a good deal about Jesus to even be asking this question, and to use it as an excuse not to believe is not even good logic. That’s saying you are not going to be accountable to what you know about Jesus, or could find out if you tried, because there is a guy somewhere in the world who in your estimation can’t find out.

When Jesus said: “You follow me,” He was saying: “You follow what you know of me — what has been revealed to you. You are not responsible for what has or has not been revealed to someone else; that is between my Father and that person.”

This also applies to our experience in life. When you want to compare your life to someone else’s — someone else has had it easier than you — guess what Jesus says. “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

Besides, I am of the impression from walking with Jesus that hell is more likely to be peopled with the self-righteous who had tons of chances to respond to God’s grace than with unlucky sinners who just happened to miss the “Jesus Saves” sign.

Don’t measure your lot in life by anyone else’s. You only have your own.

~John Fischer

January 5, 2012

What’s Wrong with our Modern Gospel

This is actually the second half of the first part of a two-part article by the late Keith Green.  Since many of you might want to start at the beginning, here are the links to the articles at Last Days Ministries:

Part One – The Missing Parts (complete text of which what is below is only the final 1/3rd)

Part Two – The Added Parts

What’s Specifically Wrong With Our Modern Gospel?

It’s Me-Centered Instead of Christ-Centered. First and foremost, it is the gospel that appeals to the selfish. Instead of honoring God, it places the sinner at the center of God’s love and plan. But the Bible places Jesus at the center of God’s plan, not the sinner.

One of the most well-known phrases of modern evangelism is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” But the sober, biblical truth that needs to be presented to the sinner’s mind is “You have made yourself an enemy of God, and in your present state of rebellion there is absolutely no hope for you.” In fact, God’s “plan” for the sinner at this point in his life is to separate him from His presence forever, in hell. However unpopular or unlovely that may sound, it is the only truth and reality about anyone who is an enemy of God through sin.

The whole line of reasoning in our modern gospel continues on and on in this mistaken way. “Sin has separated you from God, ‘and His wonderful plan for your life.’ Jesus came and died on the cross, so that you may experience ‘His wonderful plan for your life.’ You must accept Jesus now, so that you will not miss out on ‘His wonderful plan for your life!'” You, you, you, you!!! It’s all for YOU! I’m not sorry to say this, but Jesus did it all in obedience, for His Father’s glory. (Phil. 2:8-12) Of course, it infinitely benefits those who love, serve, and honor Him, but that was a secondary consideration, not the primary one. (Please read Ezek. 36:22-32.) If people come to Jesus mainly to get a blessing, or only to get forgiveness, they will ultimately be disappointed. But if they come to give Him their lives in honor and worship, then they will truly have forgiveness and joy – more than they could ever imagine! (I Cor. 2:9)

It’s Shallow, Cheap, and Offered as a “Bargain.” Our gospel reduces the good news to a “come and get it while you can” sale. We make every effort to take all the bones out – everything that might offend someone, might make them hesitate or put off their decision. Jesus didn’t do this. He never lowered the requirements for anyone. One had to be completely sincere, totally humbled, having counted the cost, willing to leave everything, family and property, “count all things loss” so that they might “gain Christ.” (Phil 3:7-8) When that same rich young ruler “went away sad, for he had many possessions” (Matt. 19:22), Jesus didn’t go running after him shouting, “Hey, wait a minute! Let’s talk this thing over, it isn’t as bad as it might sound. Maybe I was a little too harsh!”

Maybe we’re so eager to “see the converts,” to publish “how many got saved at our last concert” in the bulletins to our supporters, that we’ll do anything to rush someone into a “decision” before he’s had a chance to really make one. The problem is, if you have to rush him into it, he probably will change his mind later anyway. For as a friend of mine says, “If somebody can talk them into it, somebody can talk them out of it!” (I Cor. 1:17)

Salvation is Shown as a Barter or Trade, Instead of the Result of Obedience by Faith. We offer forgiveness of sin like Monty Hall [that would be Wayne Brady today] on “Let’s Make a Deal.” I’ve even heard, “You give Jesus your sin, and He’ll give you salvation in return!” No one in the Bible ever thought so low of the grace of God to talk about the gift of eternal life like it was for trade. It is a gift! You can’t earn it, or buy it, or give anything in return for it. How it must offend the Holy Spirit to hear people talk of His Jesus so. (Acts 8:18-23)

It Produces Selfish, “Blessed,” and Feelings-Oriented “Converts.” Anyone who is made to believe he becomes a Christian under such preaching will seldom bring forth the true fruits of a real convert. He will remain just as selfish as he always was, only now his selfishness will take on a religious form. If he wants something for himself, he will say he “has a burden” for something, or he will say, “It is the desire of my heart,” or some other religious-sounding phrase like that. He will pray selfishly, desiring blessings for himself, and even if he does pray for others, it usually will be for selfish reasons. After all, when he “accepted the Lord,” he was told how much Jesus wanted to bless him and how much God had stored up for his account, and how the Bible was like “a checkbook full of promises, just waiting to be cashed!”

Such a person always seeks to “feel” good about himself, his own church, his own pastor, etc. His whole world is built on feeling blessed. He was never shown how he was created to bless God… God was not created to bless him. (Psalm 149:4; Phil. 2:13)

As you can see, the “converts” described above are not like those pictured in the book of Acts, when the Church was new and the fire was hot. Take a look at Acts 2:41-47 and 4:31-35, and you will see the tender spirit of love, and the mighty spirit of power that prevailed among the brethren in those early days. I believe that one of the great reasons that “everyone kept feeling a sense of awe” (Acts 2:43), was because “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to prayer. “(vs. 42) I believe that Peter and the others made every effort to convey the whole message of the Gospel when they preached and taught, and that is why the Spirit of God could anoint and bless the new converts so powerfully- God always anoints the truth! (Isaiah 55:11)

~Keith Green

November 23, 2011

Do The Math: 70 X 7

You’ll find links to Russell D. Moore’s blog Moore To The Point in various spots at Thinking Out Loud, but this is the first time he’s been featured here.  This appeared at his blog under the title, What Forgiveness Is And Isn’t.

The most difficult math problem in the universe, it turns out, is 70 x 7. Perhaps the hardest thing to do in the Christian life is to forgive someone who has hurt you, often badly. But Jesus says the alternative to forgiving one’s enemies is hell.

One of the reasons this is hard for us is because we too often assume forgiving a trespasser means allowing an injustice to stand. This attitude betrays a defective eschatology. At our Lord’s arrest (Matt. 26:47-54), Jesus told Peter to put his sword back into his sheath not because Jesus didn’t believe in punishing evildoers (think Armageddon). Jesus told Peter he could have an armada of angelic warriors at his side (and one day he will). But judgment was not yet, and Peter wasn’t judge.

That’s the point.

When we forgive, we are confessing that vengeance is God’s (Rom. 12:19). We don’t need to exact justice from a fellow believer because justice has already fallen at the cross. We don’t need to exact vengeance from an unbeliever because we know the sin against us will be judged in hell or, more hopefully, when the offender unites himself to the One who is “the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn. 2:2).

A prisoner of war who forgives his captor or a terminated pastor who forgives a predatory congregation, these people are not overlooking sin. Nor are they saying that what happened is “okay” or that the relationships involved are back to “normal” (whatever that is). Instead they are confessing that judgment is coming and they can trust the One who will be seated on that throne.

You don’t have to store up bitterness, and you don’t have to find ways of retaliation for what’s been done to you. You can trust a God who is just. If you won’t forgive, if you refuse to rest in God’s judgment without seeking to retaliate, it doesn’t matter what your evangelistic tracts and prophecy charts say. When it comes to the gospel and the to the end times, you’re just another liberal.

~Russell D. Moore

November 4, 2011

From the Depths of Sin to the Joy of Forgiveness

There are times I truly believe that those of us who “grew up in church” or attended since were “minus nine months old” actually miss out on the fullness of forgiveness.  Unless we’ve wandered off into the depths of depravity and then returned, we forget that our testimony of what we were saved from has equal merit to those who have a testimony of what they were saved out of.

And we worship corporately, unaware of  how the lyrics of the same song, or the words of the same sermon are being processed by our fellow worshipers.  It is so easy to sit in church and sing worship songs because we understand intellectually the concepts of grace, mercy, atonement, forgiveness, etc., and yet forget the context in which other people might be sitting a few rows away from us, hearing those same words sung but taking an entirely different mental picture away from what we’re singing.

Unless someone takes the contrast and puts it right in our faces.  This video by Reformed Praise founder David L. Ward tries to present the contrasting worlds that some might be experiencing when hearing some of the songs we use in worship; and perhaps, because there isn’t necessarily a ‘scale’ of sins, it applies to the rest of us more than we care to admit…

There is no sin that I have done
That has such height and breadth
It can’t be washed in Jesus’ blood
Or covered by His death.
There is no spot that still remains,
No cause to hide my face,
For He has stooped to wash me clean
And covered me with grace.

There is no wrath that I will know,
No wormwood and no gall;
For though such wounds and grief I earned
My Savior bore them all.
There is no work that I must add
To stand before His throne.
I only plead His life and death
Sufficient on their own.

There is no love that I desire
But Jesus’ warm embrace.
While now I know His love by faith
I long to see His face.
There is no song that I will sing,
No melody but this,
That my Beloved, He is mine,
For He has made me His.

September 4, 2011

4 Things Christ Accomplished on the Cross

From Philadelphia pastor Brian Jones:

Theologians use various words to describe what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished.  Each of these words illuminates a unique aspect of what happened on the cross at Calvary…

Redemption

The term conveys the idea of being “bought back.” If a thief steals an expensive watch, sells it to a pawn shop, and then the original goes and pays a large sum of money to buy it back — that’s an example of redemption. Jesus’ death served as God’s payment to “buy us back from sin, darkness, the devil, and hell.

13 For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, 14 who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins. Col 1:(13 added) – 14

Reconciliation

The term conveys the idea of two people whose relationship was damaged, and they they became enemies before later coming back together.  Jesus’ death restores humanity’s broken relationship with God.

  So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. -Romans 5: 11

Substitute Atonement

The term conveys the idea of someone stepping up to take upon him or herself the punishment due another person. Jesus, in His death, stepped up to take the punishment we deserved because of our sins.

 But he was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed. -Isaiah 53:5

…Like looking at a diamond from various angles, the death of Jesus has multiple meanings and many layers, but there is one aspect of Jesus’ death that is more central than all others combined, and that’s the idea of propitiation. It’s what theologian J. I. Packer calls “the heart of the gospel.”

Propitiation

…”an offering that turns away wrath.”* Jesus’ death on the cross served as a sacrificial offering which appeased God’s wrath and opened up the possibility for people to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. – Romans 3:25 (& 26 added)

~Brian Jones in Hell is Real But I Hate To Admit It (David C. Cook) pp. 141-143

*Jack Cottrell, The Faith Once for All (College Press)

Scriptures used for this blog post: New Living Translation (NLT)

March 22, 2011

Behind God’s Back

This is from Jerry Bridges Holiness devotional (p. 94) and is also a selection from his book, The Discipline of Grace.

I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake.  Is. 43:25

God uses several metaphors and colorful expressions to assure us that our sins have been literally carried away by our Lord Jesus Christ.  One of them is in Psalm 103:12: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”  (NIV).  Here was an infinite distance as great as human vocabulary could express.

Jesus not only bore our sins on the cross, He carried them away an infinite distance.  He removed them from the presence of God and from us forever.  They can no longer bar our access to God’s holy presence.  Now “we have confidence” – or “boldness” as the King James Version more strikingly puts it – to enter God’s presence.  (Hebrews 10:19)

Reinforcing this message is Isaiah 38:17, where King Hezekiah said to God, “You have cast all my sins behind your back.”  When something’s behind your back, you can’t see it anymore.  It’s out of sight.  This is how He has completely dealt with our sin and put it away.

There’s an emphatic ring to Hezekiah’s words.  They suggest a deliberate, decisive action on God’s part.  God Himself has cast our sins behind His back and He is not hesitant or reluctant in doing this.  He has taken the initiative and He did so joyfully and gladly.  God takes pleasure in putting our sins behind his back because He takes pleasure in the work of His Son.

Do we believe this?  Do we believe the testimony of Scripture, or do we believe our guilty feelings?  Only to the extent we believe God has indeed put our sins behind His back will we be motivated and enabled to effectively deal with those sins in our daily lives.

January 5, 2011

C. S. Lewis on Life, Atheism and God

This is from the website, All About Philosophy.   I chose this today because we just finished reading (out loud) all of Mere Christianity.

C.S. Lewis Quotes – Life

“You will never know how much you believe something until it is a matter of life and death.” “If you think of this world as a place intended simply for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place of training and correction and it’s not so bad.” – God in the Dock, page 52.

“One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing. When that desire is completely quenched in anyone, I think he has become something less than human.” – God in the Dock, page 108.

Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself. – The Problem of Pain

C.S. Lewis Quotes – Atheism

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning. . .” – Mere Christianity

“Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.” – Mere Christianity

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere — ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.” – Surprised by Joy

C.S. Lewis Quotes – God

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? – Mere Christianity

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. – Mere Christianity, pages 40-41.

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” – Surprised by Joy

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. – Is Theology Poetry?

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