Sunday, May 31, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Hope of Heaven

 

Virtual Reality and Copious Wealth May Have Dulled the Pull of Heaven


How wealthy are we in Western Countries, including the United States? Here are the statistics on those living in poverty in the US, which is reflective of Canada and most of Europe.

Here are the percentages of households below the poverty level that the Census Bureau estimates had the following appliances (2013):

Refrigerator: 97.8%
Television: 96.1%
Stove: 96.6%
Microwave: 93.2%
Air conditioner: 83.4%
Video recorder/DVD: 83.2%
Cell phone: 80.9%
Clothes washer: 68.7%
Clothes dryer: 65.3%
Computer: 58.2%
Telephone (landline): 54.9%

Regarding having enough to eat:
Still, government data show that most poor households do not suffer even from temporary food shortages. As Chart 7 shows, 92.5 percent of poor households assert that they always had “enough food to eat” during the previous four months, although 26 percent of these did not always have the foods that they would have preferred. Some 6 percent of poor households state that they “sometimes” did not have enough food, and 1.5 percent say they “often” did not have enough food.


Add to this that only 643,000 people in the US were homeless for even a single night in the last 12 months, and 2/3's of those were in a shelter or transitional housing, and you have the picture of a civilization that has almost no "poverty" at all. In fact, the poor in Western cultures today live better than the middle class of a century ago.

This is not to say that those who are financial characterized as "poor" don't have a struggle regarding food, shelter, health care, and more. It is simply to say that very, very few struggle in the way that the poor of other nations or of past generations in the US struggled.

And all of this is at the low end of the economic ladder. The middle class may include some or even many who make inappropriate decisions regarding their expenditures, including overspending or substance abuse, that cause periods of hardship. But those periods of hardship don't include going hungry or even going without such luxuries as computers, smart phones, cars, entertainment or eating out.

For most in the middle class, their lifestyles are substantially better than those in the 2% most successful just 50 years ago. Almost anyone in the middle class can afford to take a trip to Europe or Hawaii, or cruise the Caribbean. Two or more cars, multiple entertainment systems, and endless entertainment opportunities are just matters of choice. Will I spend my money this year on Hawaii or season tickets, a new laptop or a new game console, more dinners out with drinks and wine or a newer boat.

So what is the lure of Heaven? What is to be hoped for? No more tears, of course. A perfect body. Meeting Jesus. Seeing old friends.

No more tears - Many believe that we are on the way to creating that potential. Given enough distraction and drugs, and eliminating causes like poverty and disease, and presto.

A perfect body - Have you read any articles on transhumanism? We are already changing genetic codes, doing face transplants, and 3D printing skin and livers. Plans for a head transplant are scheduled in 2016.

Seeing old friends - I already have more pictures and videos of old friends than I could ever consume, and I don't even watch those. I can access 30% or more of the current human population by Skype or FaceTime. I suspect that my kids will be able to converse with a hologram of me 40 years from now.

There are other cool things in Heaven. Streets of gold and pearly gates. But most people with plenty of money and time haven't even been to the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, much less Jerusalem. I'm not sure the lure of the wonder of heaven will be significant when we can put on an Oculus Rift and walk the streets that Jesus walked in virtual reality from the comfort of our living room.

To be honest, I feel as though I'm going to miss a lot of things that I currently enjoy a lot here on this planet. Business challenges, helping those who are in need of the kind of help I can supply, researching the mysteries of this orb, not to mention current family and friends.

Meeting Jesus would be a very, very, very big deal. Getting my crowns and offering them to Jesus would be amazing. Becoming fully sighted sounds like reason enough to go to heaven. And I am all for adventure. So I, like many believing adults, look forward to heaven, but am in no hurry to get there.  Contrast that with Maui. I'm itching to go back to my little grass shack.

I hope I haven't meandered off the trail too far for you to remember the point. For the unbeliever living in a Western culture, the lure or Hope of Heaven is unlikely to be a selling point for following Jesus. So much so that I don't think I've seen any books on how to evangelize even mention the idea.

Surely the fear of hell (discussed here) and the hope Heaven are not the main reasons we want others to join us in trusting Jesus. But these two used to be useful in persuading some. Not so much today.








Friday, May 29, 2015

Overboard: Jettisoning the Junk We Think We Need


My daughter and I have been embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here. This is my weekly progress check in.


MAY 20-JUNE 20? We are getting rid of stuff. 
210 items, to be exact. 
Seven things, each and every day. 
Maybe I should post pics of what I actually still own that I definitely should not??



I am a hoarder. Not bad enough to get myself on a TV show that embarrasses my children to the third generation, but a hoarder, still. I keep stuff. Too much of it.

For example, the five pairs of great jeans I kept for years, because some day, they would fit again. You know what I'm saying here. I loved those jeans, and they had not gotten nearly enough wear before my size, ahem, changed.

Fast forward a while. I took them out last year, after having lost weight due to the celiac debacle. Tried them on, all excited to get to wear those fashionable things again. Guess what? They were huge. I saved those jeans for years, and they never, ever fit again. (Plus, the likelihood of them still being fashionable was . . . not.)

So why not give them away years ago, when they still were fashionable and someone else could have worn them? Because they were still perfectly good. The fact is, from cars to clothes to craft items, this family doesn't get rid of anything that still works. That's good. Usually.

But what about when it's not perfectly good for us? See, I've been asking the wrong question all this time when looking at something and deciding whether to give it away, throw it away, or keep it. My question has been, “Is it still good? Can I still use it?”

7 has taught me to look at it another way. To ask another question.

Is it still good for me? Will I still use it? 

Or—is it perfectly good in order to bless someone else who needs it? I can't let go of something, even something I will never use, if it still can be used. Even if it's a pair of jeans that was two sizes too small, and is now five sizes too big. How crazy is that?

It makes me ask other questions. What other things can't I let go of? If my hold on material stuff is so strong, how is my hold on other stuff? Intangible stuff that, like piles of unused clothes and craft materials, can strangle the life and sanity out of a person? Stuff that takes up too much mental space with my need to cling to it and defend my possession of it.

The need to be right.
      The need to defend myself.
The fear that someone else is doing better.
      The pursuit of safe work rather than the risks God wants.
Doing what's easy rather than what's necessary.
      The defense of my time.
The right to get angry.

Are there other things I can't let go of, even when it would bless others immeasurably if I jettisoned them ASAP?

I'm here to tell you, getting rid of stuff is freeing. My closet and my craft room and my sanity thank me. But I suspect that getting rid of mental junk is even better. I think I'm going to work on some questions to ask about that kind of stuff.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4.8

Stay tuned.


Meanwhile, what mental junk might you need to toss over the side? Let's help each other.



Thursday, May 28, 2015

Iraq Christian Refugees Need English Books

Father Douglas Bazi of Iraq was once kidnapped by Islamists. They used a hammer to break his teeth, his knees and his back. The torment only ended when his Chaldean Christian church paid a ransom to win his release. But he was forced to spend a year in bed, recovering from his injuries.

He is now working in a secure part of Iraq, in Ankawa, a Christian suburb of Erbil, which is the capital of Kurdistan. Though just 50 miles from ISIS-controlled Mosul, the region is well protected and ISIS is not deemed a threat.

He is in charge of a small church with a large garden. After the trials of his past he should now be at peace. But he is not.

“My people are still struggling,” he told me in a Skype interview. “I do not find peace.”

In fact, the sprawling church garden has become home to 120 caravans, most of them occupied by desperate refugees who were forced to flee when ISIS launched its campaign of subjugation and genocide against Christian towns. (Though when I refer to them as refugees Father Douglas gently tells me, “I always call them my relatives, never refugees.”)

It is among the caravans that he has launched a new school, staffed by volunteers and aimed at giving education – and hope - to some 200 youngsters, and to their parents as well.

Several caravans are classrooms. One is a computer lab. There is also a library. He wanted to take the children to the cinema, but it was expensive. So he was able to acquire a large television set, and now another of the caravans is a cinema.

“I want to give the children a future,” he said. “I want them to be creative. We must not transfer our hatreds to them.”

His programs seem to be working. Youngsters who arrive angry and aggressive have become happy, enthusiastic learners. Their parents – often just as angry – have found a sense of community. Some have refused to leave the caravans when given the chance to be resettled in apartments.

The students learn English, among other subjects, and Father Bazi has a request.

“I need books,” he told me. “Especially picture books for the younger children, but also books suitable for older children and adults.” Rather than novels he would prefer collections of short stories, as well as non-fiction titles with lots of illustrations.

If you feel you have suitable books that you could donate please email Father Douglas at douglasbazi@gmail.com.

And if you are feeling especially adventurous, he also needs English teachers for two or three weeks this summer.

May 28, 2035 - A Brief Report from FRAG


(This is speculative fiction and nothing more. Or is it?)



May 28, 2035   
A brief report from the Federal Reproduction Advancement Group.
How it’s working:
Since the inception five years ago of this highly-praised program, all children have become planned products. Most are now produced exo utero, monitored by the Federal Reproduction Advancement Group, or FRAG. Parents may visit from time to time. Typically though, they arrive when informed their product has reached gestational completion. All products are sent home for a probationary period. The parent/parents retrieve vital information by scanning the product’s arm. A microchip transmits information to an app set up by FRAG.
With approved permission, a product may be conceived naturally, or by independent methods, and grown in utero. The monitoring occurs via the mother’s (or in some cases, the father’s) microchip. At any time, a non-viable product may be expelled by FRAG. The parent/parents will receive no notice or report concerning the decision to terminate. The pregnancy will appear to end by natural selection, and the parent/parents will not be informed otherwise. Overall, parents are accepting of this procedure and do not question the product’s end.
Careful selection of the embryo followed by lab-gestation provides parents the freedom to choose male or female, or gender-neutral, eye and hair color, skin tone, general physique, athletic propensity, as well as advanced cognitive aptitude probability. Of course, no guarantee is made that a high-brain will be produced, but parents are finding the success rate increasingly satisfactory. Biogenetics and technological enhancement offer prime outcome for exo utero production, thus lowering the termination rate substantially.
A product may begin with numerous parents chosen either by the primary parent/parents, or by FRAG. All products are thoroughly reviewed for quality and optimum development and may be recalled during the three-month probationary period. After such time, if parents wish to continue, they must sign a waiver releasing the government from future product failure.
General statistics:
Production to date, both successful and terminated: 3,433,148.
Five-year production cap: 4,000,000.
Exo utero production: 2,992,467/product termination: 4,342
In utero production: 440,681/product termination: 42,592
Probationary recall post exo utero: 417
Probationary recall post in utero: 8,643
 
Projected results and overall conclusion:
The methods set forth by FRAG provide consistency in product quality while allowing parents choices in both production and participation. Staying well under the established five-year production cap indicates cooperation of parents and society in general with the government’s population control initiative. Statistically, the preferred method is exo utero production. As well, the success rate is higher, confirming FRAG’s ability to provide superior quality control by moving gestation out of the uterus and into the laboratory.
With only a small population of in utero products surviving past the probationary period, a government panel has determined a significant decrease in projected long-term assistance programs for under optimum citizens. Older children and adults classified as in utero products may be reclassified as under optimum unless meeting certain criteria. Programs will remain available to meet their special needs.
With a decrease in overall population and an increase in quality production, all citizens can expect a future with less burden on government and greater freedom to enjoy excellence, promote proper values, and live without fear of the unplanned as we all work together to produce the next generation.
This report is brought to you by the Federal Reproduction Advancement Group.
For the children. For the world.”
May 28, 2035
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

GRACE PERIOD


Grace period is over for you when you die


The average person in our society is familiar with the expression Grace Period. What does that mean? Grace Period is a waiver of penalty for the time elapsed past a deadline that should have incurred some form of penalty for not fulfilling an obligation. 
For example, a professor might permit students to turn in an assignment a day or two late without penalty. Likewise, many companies assess and collect late fees if payment of a debt is not received by the required due date. However, some companies do not impose the late fee for a few days past the original due date and that is the Grace Period. Having examined the benefits of this concept in our physical world, let’s see how it applies in the spiritual world.

God is holy, and therefore He hates sin. He is also just, and therefore He must punish sin (See Romans 6:23). On the other hand, He loves us so much that He provided a substitute, in the person of His Son Jesus, who died in our place for our sins (See John 3:16). Hence, if we believe in Jesus, He forgives us, and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (See 1 John 1:9).

Similarly, God’s Grace Period, like the world’s Grace Periods,
 has a limited window. It lies between now and the day you die. In other words, you need to believe in Jesus while you are alive. No one can do that for you. If you die without believing in Jesus, you choose to forfeit salvation and accept God’s judgment—hell. 

The Bible says, “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 NIV84).
The Bible provides examples of people who made good use of or missed the Grace Period. Noah’s generation was so wicked that God decided to wipe out every last one of them, except Noah. God instructed him to build an ark for himself, his family, and animals (See Genesis 6:1-22). Verse 22 says, “Noah did everything just as God commanded him.” He would have perished with the rest had he not followed God’s instructions.

The people of Sodom and Gomorrah were wicked as well. God decided to destroy the place. He sent two angels to accomplish that task! The angels decided to spare Lot, the only righteous man at the time, together with his wife, two daughters, and the two future sons-in-law. They said to Lot, “Do you have anyone else here—sons-in-law, sons or daughters, or anyone else in the city who belongs to you? Get them out of here, because we are going to destroy this place” (Genesis 19:12-13 NIV84). When Lot warned his sons-in-law, they did not leave, because they thought he was joking (See Genesis 19:14). These two men had the opportunity to escape destruction, but they missed it.

Likewise, the people of Nineveh were very wicked people. God sent Jonah to preach and warn them of pending judgment. He said to them, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned” (Jonah 3:4 NIV84). The Ninevites repented; they declared a fast for the whole city. Because they repented, God did not bring the destruction He had intended (See Jonah 3:10).

Whereas in the world the duration of a Grace Period is the same across the board, the Grace Period in spiritual matters is not the same for all, because our lifespans vary. Some live longer than others, but your Grace Period is over for you when you die, or when you lose the ability to understand (as with poor health), no matter at what age. Procrastination is unwise and risky, because we don’t have the luxury of knowing ahead of time when the end will come. If we did, we could plan our day of salvation.


Have you believed in the name of Jesus? If you haven’t, please be reminded that each day that passes brings you closer to the end of your Grace Period. Call on the name of Jesus today and be saved!

Monday, May 25, 2015

"I Do"


I’m sitting in a hotel room in Springfield, Ohio having just driven the 40 miles from Columbus to attend a wedding reception. Checking in, I realized I’d grabbed my Starbucks card instead of my driver’s license when I change purses! Shows where my priorities lie!

Wedding celebrations offer the opportunity to step out of the everyday task-filled life and focus on relationship, hopes, and dreams. Listening to conversations around the reception table, guests often share comments about the possibility of couples sustaining a long term loving, committed relationship. Cynicism makes logical sense with the divorce rate skyrocketing. But Jesus instituted an upside kingdom. One not based on WHAT we see with our eyes, but WHO we put our faith and trust into.

Looking at life through a humanistic lens, we focus on mistakes, errors, pain, and hurt. That viewpoint can only logically lead us to expect more of the same in the future. We are living in a broken world with broken people who have hurt us. Worse yet, we have our own issues that cause pain to ourselves and others, even when we mean the best. So how can we find hope to move forward. To fall in love, dream passionately, and follow God boldly? By committing every day to take the hand of your Beloved, the one who created you. Remind yourself that God loves, guides, and protects you in all things at all times and rest in this amazing relationship.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fall, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. Psalm 73:23-28

This psalm reminds of me the wedding vows I will hear proclaimed today. Sentiments of how the bride and groom care for each other and their vision for moving forward together as a couple. Has your heart turned toward God today? Have you looked in his eyes and seen his love for you in the midst of your circumstances?

Read the book of Psalms. Find the words that express your feelings and speak them to God. Frustrated, hurt, joyful, repentant; David expressed them all. Just like in a marriage, we need to be truthful and honest with God, communicating honestly our fears, irritations, disappointments, and blessings.

Photo from Creative Commons via Photobucket/susano75

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Whatever Happened to the Fear of Hell

Why repent of your sins if you don't fear going to hell?


There was a time when the choice between going to heaven or hell seemed to be of great concern to most folks. Pastors spoke at length about how glorious heaven will be and painted a picture of hope that would cause the heart to yearn for an eternity in heaven.

At the same time, some of these pastors provided a contrasting and horrific picture of the alternative. Hell was seen as a place of everlasting torment, separation from God, and a place that any sane person would want to avoid at all cost.

Some chose Christ, at least initially, as a kind of insurance policy. Others made an intelligent choice to choose Christ and all he represents, and at least a part of the reason was the fear of hell. The knew and appreciated that they were sinners, and that it just made sense to accept the gift of eternal life with God in heaven that Jesus was offering, rather than continue in sin and face the wrath of God.

We are getting a confusing message as to exactly what hell is


Today, the church and the culture seem to offer widely divergent theories about hell. You have some denominations that seem to be unclear that hell even exists as a real place, but rather propose that it is merely a metaphor. Others prefer hell light. Forget about fire, brimstone, and such. Rather it is merely separation from God. That may not seem very scary to a person who is already living life separated from God.

We may feel intimidated by our "modern" culture to even speak about hell. After all, it seems so unscientific, and brutal, and unfair. We don't like things that are unfair. Then, of course, it is certainly judgmental! The culture really hates all things that speak of judgment.

But hell is all of those things. When we fail to clearly explain the horrors and reality of hell to an unsaved individual, we have failed to provide them with a vital piece of information that should move them towards a decision to trust Christ.

Many don't believe there is a hell 


Some who claim to be going to heaven and many who do not, say that they don't believe in Hell. If they say they believe the Bible, they indicate that hell is a metaphor, not a real place with real consequences. Others who believe in heaven and even angels, but are not really in a relationship with Christ, somehow just believe that hell and devils are not true things. There is generally no basis for their belief.  They just believe.


Some don't believe in hell, because they feel a loving God would never send anyone to hell


This is popular idea for those who are on the edge about Christianity. They many like the idea, may even feel Jesus was the greatest man in history and appreciate His teachings. But they totally misunderstand the idea of a loving God also being Just and therefore being incapable of tolerating sin in a place that is Holy like Heaven. Sometimes this set of beliefs is just a smokescreen for not wanting to give over their life to God, and if there is no hell, not taking the step of faith is not so consequential.


Some say that they aren't afraid of hell or prefer it to heaven


The idea that hell will be more fun than heaven, or that hell is where my friends will be is another great dodge to keep from confronting the choice of following Jesus. No one in their right mind who believes that hell exists, and that it is as horrific as the Bible states, would choose that option. Imagine someone standing before the gates of Heaven and hell and choosing to walk through the gates of hell. No, the choice is not about whether to choose one or the other. The choice is about what one thinks they will have to sacrifice in order to choose heaven. What if the person standing before those gates was given a sword and told that they could walk into hell or they could kill themselves and gain heaven?

Tell your unsaved friends about the reality of hell. In fact, if you have a teaching role in the church, be certain to teach your students about that reality so they are able to tell their unsaved friends.

Are you afraid of your friends ending up in hell? Why do you think your friends are not afraid?

Friday, May 22, 2015

To Whom Too Much Has Been Given

Some of the things that came out of that craft room.
Only a few.
My daughter and I have been embarking on a second round of Jen Hatmaker's book 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess. A more detailed explanation can be found here. And here. This is my weekly progress check in.


For May20-June 20, the plan is to give seven things away. Every day. That's approximately 210 things just for me. This does not count the daughter. Or, potentially, the other daughter who is coming home from college this week and may want to join us. Or not. She probably feels deprived enough already having just spent the last year eating dorm cafeteria food. Still, she should read last month's conclusions on food, I guess.

OK, so you have to know, I started this giving away stuff long before the beginning of this month of Possessions. Like, over spring break, when I enlisted a friend of mine who had foolishly offered to help clean my craft room. She offered. I needed the drill sergeant to make me toss stuff. It was a match made in, well, second grade when our daughters became best friends.

We gave away/threw away five garbage bags of stuff. And trust me, that room is still full. I promised myself that a year from now, if I haven't used it, more is going to go. The girls are done with matchstick eiffel towers and unidentified clay creations. 4H years are over. Get a grip, mom. It's time.

Then the linen closet. At least ten old towels and various wash clothes donated to the wildlife center. Just in time for baby animal birthing. And I don't miss them at all. About seventeen sheets and pillowcases. Why? Why? I have no idea where some of these even came from or whose bed they ever graced. Out.

Next came clothes. Again, three huge bags of them. Losing 45 pounds does something to your wardrobe, namely, causes most of it to hang on you like a needy girlfriend. So, out they all went. Yeah, are you ready? 60 pieces of clothing. And one winter coat. I am not done yet. Why do I have so many clothes? How can one person wear that much? When the washer was broken for a month, I still had enough clean shirts to wear every day—and that's just depressing. Yes, most of them are $5 Old Navy specials, but still. Who needs that much?

When someone has been given much, much will be 

required in return; and when someone has been entrusted 

with much, even more will be required.” (Luke 12.48)

I know, in context this is not talking about possessions, per se. But I think it is still applicable for those of us to whom so much has been given. I've not just been given things. I've been entrusted. Am I acting in ways worthy of God's trust? Do I think about my things in a way that makes Him glad He trusted me? I'm doubtful.


So now, after all that, we are just starting the month of giving away seven things every day. You'd think I would be out of things to toss. Sadly, I am quite sure this won't even be difficult. The thing is, I want it to be difficult. I'm not sure how to really feel this one. But I am sure God will have it figured out. Time to listen. And toss. And give. I am excited.


After. Really, really wish I had taken a before.
You would not have believed it.



A Singer Loses His Religion

The annual Eurovision Song Contest is a huge event, one of the world’s most-watched non-sporting events. This year’s competition, in Vienna tomorrow night, is also – in my opinion – the scene of a lesson for Christians in what can happen when you let the power of the world overwhelm your faith.

Eurovision is a kind of European Idol – a competition to find the best singer in Europe. This year marks its 60th anniversary, and to commemorate the organizers decided to invite a competitor from one non-European nation. They chose Australia - my country - on the grounds that the contest has been shown here on television each year for many years and has become exceptionally popular.

Representing Australia will be Guy Sebastian, a charismatic young singer with a beautiful voice who has achieved enormous fame over the past decade. He will be singing a number he composed himself, “Tonight Again.”

Guy was once a devout Christian, and for his fellow Christians his story is a sad one. He was born in Malaysia, but his family emigrated to Australia when he was young. He attended King’s Baptist Grammar School in Adelaide and became a worship leader at Paradise Community Church, part of the Assemblies of God and one of Australia’s largest churches.

But then fame struck. In 2003 he won the very first Australian Idol television event. Many such winners are never heard from again. But Guy’s star grew only brighter. His debut song, “Angels Brought Me Here,” went on to become Australia’s top-selling song of the decade.

Sadly, as his fame grew, his faith withered. At the beginning of his career he openly praised God, and he spoke forthrightly of his Christian values. For example, he made it clear that he believed it important to retain his virginity until marriage.

But, as he became absorbed by the glitter and the bright lights of show business, he started to change. In 2012, now one of Australia’s most popular entertainers, he announced that, while he still believed in God, it was important not to impose one’s beliefs on others.

"What I was told in regards to so many things was so wrong,” he told a journalist, concerning his lapsed faith. “I've gone from a place where I was told there was one way and only one way, to being more in a place where I don't think anyone has the right to say what they believe is more important or more significant." He came out in favour of gay marriage.

On his own website is a biography which does not even refer to his faith, but simply describes him as having “a reputation as a person of the highest moral values and integrity.”

Like most Australians I shall be cheering for Guy to win the Eurovision contest. But at the same time I shall pray that he can return to the God who has blessed him with so many wonderful gifts.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Command of the Gospel

What choice do I have?


A verse well-known and repeated often by Christians is Romans 6:23:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Taking this to heart, we might conclude it’s all about the gift. And accepting the gift is all about choice. We can take it or leave it.

While an element of truth exists in the “take or leave it” approach, the gift is not a choice. It’s given to the redeemed, who do not consider the offer or ponder refusal. The choice was already made—it was God’s choice to give the redeemed eternal life. The choice of the redeemed is to follow Christ. And yet, even that is really no choice at all.

 Scripture does not offer a choice. Jesus did not give permission to determine our own method of salvation. A back-up plan doesn’t exist. Yet the clear command gets turned into something resembling a choice.

 What does the Bible tell us about making a choice? Another verse remembered—and revised—by Christians goes something like this: Choose this day whom you will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

 Here’s the whole passage from Joshua 24:

14 “Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. 15 And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

Joshua gave the tribes of Israel a message from God. And then he told them what to do. If they didn’t want to, Joshua said, then they could choose something different. Something that hadn’t worked in the past. Something that would lead to death. The command was to serve God. The alternative was death.

So it is with the Gospel. The gift of Romans 6:23 is not the Gospel. It is the after-effect of the Gospel. The Gospel is not an offer to be accepted or refused depending on who you are or where you came from. It’s not a choice that will help you get to know God or define your role as a Christian. It is a command to live.
Acts 17:30:
"Truly these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent."

The “times of ignorance” when people chose to stick with their foreign gods are done. Now, at the time of the proclamation of God’s command, all people are called to turn from their old ways and serve the risen King. It’s not a chance to make it up to God for being bad. Not a way to get yourself straightened out. It’s a command to repent or die. Turn from your idols and false gods to the one true God. Or else.
It sounds like a choice, right? It feels like a choice. I can put away what I thought would fix me, cleanse me, and save me. Or I can keep on trying what I’m doing and die trying. But if I’m convinced that’s how my efforts will end, is there really any choice but obey the command? God isn’t asking me to choose. I’m covered by furious waves and He’s telling me to cling to Him or drown. And so I…choose…to cling and not to drown.

It’s one of those sweet mysteries that settle into the hearts of the redeemed. He commands. He offers freely. I choose. I have no choice. In fact, I am unable to choose. Perhaps that’s why He made it a command. An offer implies acceptance, and so gives us the impression that we’ve made a choice. But a command requires unfailing power from the One who declares it, and demands nothing from my drowning soul except to live.
 



 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

A PARENT'S DESIRE FOR HIS CHILD




"when we appear before Him, we really will be like Him"




From the day a couple first discusses having children or discovers that a baby is on the way, they start bonding with the baby, and developing their desire and hope for the baby. They begin to plan and map out his life, because they believe he is their responsibility. They are right. From the beginning of time, a child has been the parents’ responsibility. They celebrate the genetic heritage that passes forward in the family DNA and try to anticipate the way some of their own physical features will be expressed in the baby. They want the baby to be healthy and intelligent. I doubt that there has ever been a parent who wanted anything less for a child.
Similarly, God our Father has plans for His children; plans that are attainable if we team up with Him. He made it very clear that His plans are for our well-being (See Jeremiah 29:11). Unlike human parents, God doesn't only have plans, but He also knows how to make them happen. Human parents have no guarantees that their hopes for their children will materialize, but God does.

All that God wants for His children is summed up in one plan—that we will be conformed to the likeness of His Son, Jesus (See Romans 8:29). That plan really is for us to be holy, because He is holy (See 1Peter 1:15-16). God is not just wishing and hoping for the best for us. Neither is He waiting to see how things unfold. Instead, He takes an active role in the process to bring about our sanctification, by fully equipping us to that end. Peter reassures us that we are not left on our own to figure out life, but that, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3 NIV84). We need an increasing knowledge of God’s will, which will allow us to live lives that please Him. That was Paul’s prayer for the Church at Colosse (See Colossians 1:9-10).  

Paul the apostle, admonished the young preacher Timothy, regarding what he should teach the flock under his care—godly living—by saying, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Timothy 2:19 NIV84). We should not continue to live in sin after we have the knowledge of the will of God. If we know the will of God, but choose to do otherwise, James says it’s like forgetting how we look immediately after we turn away from a mirror (See James 1:22-24). As we obey the will of God, we are being sanctified; we gradually become more and more like Jesus, just the way God has intended for us.
So how do we attain this increasing knowledge of His will? It is through studying the Bible, the Word, which is God’s manual for daily living. Everything we need to know in this endeavor is written down for us in the Word. The Bible is complete. It addresses every aspect of our lives. It has the answers to all the questions we’ll ever have about godly living in this life. In addition, God has placed us in His family, the Church, where we can care for and support one another. Sharing our experiences helps each of us grow. God has given us gifts with which we serve each other and attain His desire for us. What is His desire for us? To become like Jesus Christ! 

The climax of God’s desire for us will be amazing, because when we appear before Him, we really will be like Him. As the apostle Paul wrote, “So shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49NIV84). Amen!



Monday, May 18, 2015

Don't Let Hurt Separate You From Others



The first time I met GracieLu, a woman was dragging her out of a van in a school parking lot. Matted hair, malnourished, terrified, this wire-haired Jack Russell had obviously lived a hard life. I answered an ad for a free dog not knowing what was in store for both of us. Anxious to leave, the owner shoved a bag of dog food into my hand, then quickly got in the van and left. Poor GracieLu, she had no idea who I was nor where she was going.

Gently picking her up, I drove to the condo where I lived with my son Ben. He was off to college soon and the house would be too quiet. I wanted to adopt a canine friend to keep me company, someone who was excited when I walked in the door. 

GracieLu stood still for a long time, trembling and uncertain. Sitting a few feet away, I talked to her gently, giving her the 411 on our home and family. Ben walked into the room, making a comment about the scraggly mutt I inherited. Hearing his deep voice, Gracie peed on the floor then rolled over submissively, her eyes begging Ben not to hurt her.

My heart broke seeing her fear, knowing there was no way for me to effectively communicate that she was safe. Over the next six months, GracieLu experienced consistent love and came to see we were different than her former owners. What a blessing to watch her excitement when I came home, unabashedly demanding my attention, showering me with kisses.

When people are treated poorly by others, we often shut down, hesitant to open up to others for fear of further hurt. Being made in the image of God, however, means we’re created as relational beings. Shutting off from relationship deprives us of comfort, encouragement, support, and enjoyment leaving us isolated, cynical, and bitter. You can be disappointed and rejected without being devastated and withdrawn. 

GracieLu gave me a chance to show my true character, and she joyously accepted all the love I offered. Spend time with God, share your sorrow and pain about those who’ve hurt you. Then step out in faith and open yourself up to the possibility of a new relationship, certain that God will be with you every step of the way, good or bad.