I wish this could be more gently expressed, but like a man seeing the house of a friend on fire, I must SHOUT IT. There is too little time to say, “Oh, maybe I will disturb him or interrupt his nice supper; I’ll call him later and tell him his house is on fire.” What kind of friend would I be!? That said, no one can force you out of a burning house if it is your choice to stay there. But still, I have to warn that Jesus made it clear, we must Be Ready or we will perish.
We have examined the evidence of evil. There are people who sell other people into the sex trades or some form of indentured servitude. Just as bad, there are people who buy and use them. There are people who will sell drugs to anyone with money to purchase, no matter how badly addicted their victims are; others who will turn a blind eye to crises because it is politically inconvenient or will cost them their job or make them look foolish to others; even more who simply shrug and say, “Well, I am not doing that. It is not my problem.” The mass of German citizens seemed shocked when they were paraded into POW camps after WW2 and said, “Oh, my, we didn’t know.” But their complicity was in not listening to the warning sirens of Jews being “labeled” and marginalized; ignoring the buildup of power into a select few, all in the name of “purifying the race;” making life better for “all of you.”
Evil is evident. Hell is authentic. So how can one avoid it? Jesus spent most of his parables telling about the Kingdom of God and how to get into it. He gave several stern warnings, though, against being deceived. In Matthew 24, four times He told His followers to beware. He then conclude this teaching with a blessing and a severe warning (verses 45-51) .
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions. But if that wicked servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed,’and begins to beat his fellow servants and eats and drinks with drunkards,the master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not knowand will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
He then tellsthe story of ten women who went out to meet a bridegroom. In that culture, the groom would come to his bride at an unannounced time after meeting with his friends. Five were foolish and five were wise. At the end of the story, this Jesus that everyone thinks would always be so kind and forgiving, excludes the foolish women from the groom’s banquet, and quite harshly!
He then tells a story of a landowner who commits responsibilities to his servants while he is away. The wise servants invest his loans to them, but a foolish one hides the money so he can give back only what he received. He gets a tongue lashing that would make Bear Bryant blush, and the land owner orders the “worthless servant [to be cast] into the outer darkness . . . where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
He concludes a trilogy of parables with a story of sheep and goats being separated. To the “goats on the left” Jesus will tell them, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels . . . And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Note, the eternal fire was never intended for humans.
The fearful thing for most people is that Heaven is not our default destination. In our natural state, the way we are born, we are already condemned to hell! John wrote in his Gospel, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already!” John 3:16-18
That is why Jesus told the Pharisee that he needed to be “born again!” Being born into this life was NOT enough! As lovely or successful or rich or powerful or comfortable as one can be, we are all condemned to hell UNLESS we specifically and personally take a step of faith and “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” to be saved.
It would be “nice” if everyone would get into Heaven, but Jesus clearly teaches that many will NOT! How can I invite you to read the Gospels, the Good News, so that you do not have to go to hell? What can I do to persuade you that you were created for a better life than this? Are there any words I can write that will convince you to trust Jesus for eternal life? What can I show you of how much God, the Father, loves you beyond the fact that Jesus died in your place, in my place?
The promise is completely inclusive: ANYONE can come to Jesus, regardless of past sin, problems, ethnicity, success or failure; NOTHING excludes you! But the promise is completely exclusive simultaneously: ONLY those who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved.
Someday, “at the name of Jesus every knee [WILL] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue [WILL] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” when He is fully revealed at the end of time. But there is a special blessing and fellowship of the Holy Spirit and of other Christ-followers for those who bow their knees now, and confess now that Jesus Christ ISLord. Do not be deceived.
Please, dear friends reading this blog, you to whom I have emailed this link, those of you just stopping by for a visit: Pray to Jesus to be born again and to guide you by His Holy Spirit. Begin reading the Bible, especially starting in the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Find someone near you who knows Jesus and start meeting regularly.
If you do not know of anyone in your hometown or country, email me at email@example.com and I will help you find someone out of our international connections. If you want to Zoom with me, just email me, but I encourage you to find someone locally who speaks your ‘heart language.’ Please, prepare or you will perish.
The result of living without Jesus is . Not just a fantasy, not just a short-term separation from what is good. It is a final loss, a final “mercy” of God to those who refuse any blessing. He will not let an evil person go on hurting others into eternity, or even themselves; so He places them in outer darkness (Matthew 8:11-12), alone and apart from any source of light or life, because that is what they have chosen. “All that are in hell choose it. Without that self-choice, there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find; to those who knock it is opened.” (C.S.Lewis, The Great Divorce)
If they would choose to know The God Who Is Here, anyone can enter into His Life, Light, Joy, Peace and every other blessing that comes from living in consistency with “the universe.” There is only one way to know The God Who Is Here, and that is by getting to know Jesus, the Messiah, aka Christ. “Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” (John 17:3) There simply is no other way. Father loves each one of us so much that if there was another way, He would inform us and provide us with the alternatives. But THIS is the nature of the universe. It is what He created and knowing Himis the only way. (Acts 4:10-12)
Like the Children of the Day sang, “Don’t try to drive the darkness out; You just turn on the light.” Hell is the absence of light. It is the absence of love. It is the absence of community. It is the absence of peace. It is the absence of selfless joy. It is the absence of life.
Note, by that I do not mean the end of existence. It that were the case, “hell” would not be all that bad. If when we died we simply vanished into nothingness, there would be no reason for warning and inviting people to Life. However, God created each of us, created YOU, to enjoy Him forever. There is no Infinity Stone that can simply snap away our existence. The gift of existence is without do-overs. (Romans 11:29) We were created for eternity and “He has put eternity into man’s heart.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
One of Job’s visitors described hell as the destiny of all those who do not know God, a dreadful place he calls “the king of terrors.” Hell will be a place of eternal death, because its inhabitants will be separated eternally from the Source of Life. There, like the demons who believe and shudder (James 2:19), its occupants will hate God and the exposing light of his glory. “It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain)
Before Him “Every heart will melt, and all hands will be feeble; every spirit will faint, and all knees will be weak as water” (Ezekiel 21:7). Just as the kings of the earth will call to the mountains and rocks, “Hide us from the face of Him who is seated on the throne” (Revelation 6:16), in hell God will give them what they want, a place of complete eclipse, darker than anything we can imagine. (Matthew 22:13; 25:29-30)
As we have noted before (see ), anyone who longs for joy can find it. Moses said in Deuteronomy 4:29, “If you will seek Yahweh your God, you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.” But this is not like trying to find Easter eggs, either in the yard under bushes, or a hidden message in a movie. You do not have to scour the internet or decode mysterious anagrams or learn a particular language. God is not hiding, making you wade through mazes or difficult terminology to find Him. He makes Himself clear to anyone willing to see Him (Romans 1:19-22) Further, He has revealed Himself throughout history via prophets, priests, church leaders and lastly through Jesus.
It would be nice if we could say those who go to hell will only stay there for a little while and then be granted entry into Heaven, kind of like an earthly prison sentence. But remember those who go there go by their own choice because they do now want to live in God’s Kingdom; they refuse to live with someone else that is there; they object to His rulership.
So what awaits one who refuses to believe what God has revealed about Himself? “This is what Yahweh, the LORD, says: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’ Therefore hear, O nations, and know what will happen to them. Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.… Therefore this is what Yahweh says: ‘Behold, I will lay before this people a stumbling block against which they shall stumble; fathers and sons together, neighbor and friend shall perish.’” (Jeremiah 6:16-21)
You have this opportunity while you live. (Hebrews 9:27-28) There is no guidance on making this decision after you die, and why would anyone refuse the Lord of Life now while they can learn to know Him before that time? The choice is yours to make. we will look a little more at the choice.
G.K Chesterton is the source for today’s blog: a challenge to do some mental gymnastics to discover something we may have been missing. In his 1925 philosophical tome, The Everlasting Man, the “prince of paradox” presents an interesting challenge: to read a Bible story from an aboriginal mindset. You see, we have Christmas and Easter, jewelry and architecture, names of streets, cities and buildings and so many myriad additional references in our world to that unique man, Jesus, that it is difficult to imagine anyone anywhere in our global community that does not know somethingabout Jesus. And depending on the source of that something, our views of Jesus have been significantly shaped by the introductions we have been given, whether from a church, synagogue, mosque, temple, friend, enemy, or Christian/anti-Christian teaching. And Chesterton contends that much of our view, even in the “Christian west” is significantly distorted.
So I wish to challenge you, as Chesterton has challenged me, to do some mental exercising. Set your mind as though you have never heard of Jesus, a Christian church, or anything “christian.” Pretend for this exercise that your only exposure to the divine has been the thunderous clouds that bring rain and frightening lightning; a starry sky at night and the warm and sometimes burning heat of the sun at day; the long graceful hop of a wallaby or neck of a giraffe; the worrisome growl of a bear or roar of a lion; a baby’s sweet coo and cry and the caress of your beloved.
Begin by beguiling your brain into thinking you have never received a Christmas gift or hunted an Easter egg or walked on Christchurch Avenue or stood in front of the spires of Notre Dame Cathedral. You have never heard of Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul or John. Equally, you have never heard of Aristotle, Buddha, Confucius, Mohammad, Rama or Krishna or Zoroaster. Add to that, you have never been concerned with politics, social structure or economics; no Communists, Conservatives, Democrats, Greens, Liberals, Republicans, Socialists, Tories or any other ideology for guidance of a nation.
This is a difficult mental exercise, but I encourage you, that it is not impossible. Settle in your mind that you have never been taught anything about any god or history of creation, whether theism or atheistic evolution. You have never worried about issues of government or society. Your mind has been focused all these years on eating and drinking to stay alive and whatever day-to-day activities were required to survive, be at peace, avoid enemies and enjoy your time on earth.
Now, with this mindset, approach a new short book someone has brought you. Its title is very short, just four letters, L-u-k-e. If you can find it in its original formatting, without chapter and verse numbers, all the better. (Chapters and verses were added centuries later to make research and memorization easier.)
However, it is available at a website where you can look up your language in which to read it. If English is your native language, I encourage you to use the ESV noted in the website connection. If another language is your “heart language,” feel free to try to find it under the ALL tab when you pull down the languages from the little arrow by the default version that opened.
So sorry, Mongolian is not on the list . . . yet. But Arabic, Hindi, Punjabi, Tagalog and LOTS of others are there.
Any Gujariti readers here? 😉
Now that you have emptied your mind of any preconceptions about this little story, begin with Luke’s introduction to his narrative for his friend, Theophilus. Read the short biography at a single sitting if you can; in your heart language it should not take much more than 90 to 120 minutes . Remember, you have never heard of these people, Luke, Herod, Elizabeth, Martha or Jesus before. Your entire impression of these people will come from your reading this for the first time!
You may want to have a pencil and paper handy, and note what you discover about some of the characters introduced to you for the first time. Questions are sure to come up, as we begin with no information on the culture or history of these people and events; Why did He say THAT!? Why did she do that!? Why was He so rude? Why did that confuse them? Isn’t Jesus supposed to be meek and mild? Aha, you’ve slipped from the aboriginal mindset and are remembering something you’ve heard. Try again! 😁
If you want to dialog about your questions, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment here. No guarantees I have any answers for you. Either Tim Keller or Rick Warren wrote (but I cannot find the referemce), “When someone thinks he knows all the answers, you have to wonder if he knows all the questions.” (Similar to a Confucius quote.)
Here’s to hoping you have a good week and discover who Jesus really is.
Enjoy Peter Hollen’s and Home Free’s a-capella performance of Amazing Grace.
“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.” C.S.Lewis
Anita, as a new international student, met Elva Craig back in 1984 at the University of Iowa. Meeting with friends for a weekly Bible study, Elva led Anita in understanding that following Jesus was not just a “Western religion,” but a matter for every heart in the world. And as they say, the rest is history.
Now Elva is facing the time we all will come to someday, some of us sooner than others. But there is no escaping that we will all come face to face with our mortality. Last week’s blog shared the decision we each must make before that moment, What will you do with Jesus, called the Christ?
Last week I asked Elva’s permission to share her latest newsletter with my blog, to show what it is like when you are walking with Jesus and facing what most people fear most. I added links for your convenience. What a delight, what a joy, what a hope those who know Jesus have! Death has lost its sting; the grave has lost its victory! Because He lives, we will live also!! Enjoy reading Elva’s testimony. _________________________________ From: Elva Craig Sent: Sun 1/31/2021 9:54 PM To: Subject: Feb. 2021 Prayer Letter
Dear Friends, I know I haven’t written for a while,but I kept waiting until I had something definite to tell you.
2020 is almost over and most are very thankful. Many things have happened since the beginning of the year. Retirement has not been good to me. In early January I had spine surgery. My lower disks were deteriorating and squeezing a nerve that caused pain in my hip and leg. They put four small titanium rods in my spine to keep the disks from squeezing the nerve.
One Saturday night I had a seizure, but I did not know what it was. I contacted my co-worker (a nurse), and after she brought me to the hospital, the doctors saw something that looked like tiny tumors. It was at this time we started the nation-wide quarantine.
Because I had a seizure I could not drive for six months and then another seizure took away all hopes for driving. As a result of both of those things I stayed home lot. I made a lot of cards to send to church people and others I knew who were also home alone.
In April the hospital took another MRI and determined that I had three small tumors in my brain, in the optic area. Two were close together in the front and one in the back. On April 24 I had brain surgery, where they actually drilled a hole in my head and took out a piece of one of the tumors to see what kind they were. The tumors are what they call glioblastoma, a kind that cannot be killed. I began taking chemo (pill) and radiation therapies. The chemo was every night and radiation was five times each week.
Then I signed up to help out with a research project to see how large doses of vitamin C might effect the brain tumors. For this they put a port put in my chest so they would not have to stick me with needles every other day. The vitamin C infusions were three times each week. It is a slow drip that takes 2-½ hours.
In between all these I met with doctors, had MRI’s, x-rays, and stayed away from people. This all went on for six and a half weeks. Actually the vitamin C part goes on much longer, but I have a month break.
On top of all that, came the covid virus when everyone stayed home. The tumors have affected my eyes so I cannot see small letters or numbers when they are close together (e.g., telephone numbers, check books, etc). Also I have trouble writing things clearly as well as memory problems. So if there are problems with spelling or grammar, forgive me. [very few, butc.a. fixed these.😉] After going through all these things, the doctors told me they had done every thing they could for me and it was now up to God, but he did not think it would be much longer before I went Home (not his way of saying it).
Now on to the brighter side of things. Through all of this, God has been very good to me in many ways, as He has promised. Ann, my co-worker, went to many of my early appointments and helped me understand what they were saying in plain English, not medical terminology. She also arranged for me to have rides to the hospital every day with different ladies from our church. I thank the Lord that so far I have not had any reactions or pain from chemo or radiation. I do get a little unsteady and tired. Also, now I have more time at home to enjoy longer devotional times. Because of my musical background, God somehow puts a song in my head, out of the blue, which usually stays with me all day. Two that I really enjoy are “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Take My Hand Precious Lord.”
In regard to CBF (Campus Bible Fellowship), we know things will be different at all the universities because of the virus. We did not have our Furniture GiveAway this past year and we do not know where we will get new contacts. I am having my own GiveAway, trying to give away most of my things. If you were here you would be welcome to them.
I told one of the social workers here at Iowa that we work a lot with international students. Some of the ones I worked with have gone back to their home countries. I have many contacts from the International Women’s Club where I taught English. I do not know if they will meet this coming semester. Our CBF group was so small, that losing some to graduation and jobs, we do not have much to work with. We do not even know if groups will be allowed to meet on campus. This semester we met by Zoom so we could see and talk to everyone.
I will close with another thing that has been very special. The doctors do not know how much longer I might live on earth. I have been able to live my life serving the Lord, so now when I think of dying, all I can think of is seeing my Savior and my whole immediate family. What a joy that will be! Every time I think about it I tear up.
Thank you, Lord, for your goodness and provision of salvation so we have no fear of dying. I said that to a social worker and she said, ”Are you thinking of committing suicide?”😄 I have been able to talk to some of the nurses about the promises God has given us. And I am looking forward to the Lord’s return. Here is a song that I sang with one of the ladies from church. It seems to fit the situation.
Chorus: He leadeth me, He leadeth me! By His own hand He leadeth me! His faithful follower I would be, for by His hand He leadeth me!
1.He leadeth me O blessed tho’t! O words with heav’nly comfort fraught! Whate’er I do, where’er I be, Still ‘tis God’s hand that leadeth me.
2.Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine, Nor ever murmur nor repine, Content, whatever lot I see, Since ‘tis my God that leadeth me!
3.And when my task on earth is done, When by Thy grace, the vict’ry’s won, E’en death’s cold wave I will not flee, Since God thro’ Jordan leadeth me.
Please keep praying for me, that I will remain strong. Looking forward to meeting you all in heaven. Hope to see you there. Elva Craig
How can we grow old gracefully? By this I mean that you can live at peace, gently interacting with others, eat enough food to stay healthy, wear clothes that are adequate for your weather, sleep quietly in a safe room, and rest from the trials of life.
There are three properties we need in order to grow old gracefully: Trust, Mercy and Grace.
Trust is necessary as we begin to find many things slipping out of our control. We cannot hear the news reports as clearly and information seems to accumulate faster than we can digest it. Attention to details of what we own and where things are stored begins to fade, and if you do not trust those around you, you will constantly feel in danger of losing something valuable.
Trust in any person and you will be disappointed at some time; probably more than once! Even trusting our God leaves us sometimes with confusion and wondering if He really knows what He is doing. But that is when the tires of our trust must truly engage the terrain. “Nothing happens TO a Christ-follower; filtered by His love, it only happens FOR us.” (Lane Martin)
Do we really believe that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose?”If so, then trust becomes an essential not just of our spiritual life, but of every aspect of life, including the people we trust, the weather we enjoy or endure, the supposed “accidents” that happen, the deterioration of our minds and decay of our bodies. We must recognize Father brings people into our sphere of influence (and influence over us) as part of His plan, and if we trust HIM, it will extend to the people and circumstances around us.
And that is where Mercy comes in. As we put our trust in flawed humans they willfail us, often unintentionally. But they will also misuse us, steal from us or take advantage of us. But remember, HE allows it!
So we must be prepared to forgive them, even before they ask for it, and sometimes they may never do so. We are still responsible to Father to forgive them from our hearts – ! That is SOOOO hard to do, but God does not give us an option here. “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (See Matthew 5:43-48 and 6:14-15.)
And mercy will extend Grace to those who do not deserve it. Whereas mercy is not getting the bad that we deserve, grace is defined as unmerited favor; i.e. getting something good that we do not deserve. Just as we have received grace from The God Who Is Here, He expects us to extend that same grace to those who offend us. (See Matthew 18:21-35.) After all, “we are all broken people to one degree or another. And God loves using broken people, because that way we know it is Him working out His grace in us.” (Doug Johnston)
A friend told me of two old fellows who died many years ago. His maternal grandfather went to Heaven at 92 year old. Walter had dementia but loved God and was as sweet as apple pie. He trusted his care-givers even when he could not remember their names or that he had ever met them before. He was patient and kind and always grateful whenever anyone did anything for him. Everybody loved Walter, right up to the day he passed away.
Some years later, my friend’s 57 year old father was diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. His wife once heard him praying, “Lord, let me grow old like Walter.” And he did. As his disease limited his understanding of the world around him and left him often confused about what was happening to him, he also finished this life expressing Trust, Mercy and Grace to those around him.
How can we grow old gracefully? Trust your care-giving Father; give Mercy to any who offend; extend undeserved Grace to everyone God brings across your path. And pray, “Lord, let me grow old like Walter.”
Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, The last of life, for which the first was made: Our times are in His hand Who saith “A whole I planned, Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!” [the first stanza of “Rabbi Ben Ezra” by Robert Browning] (pictured above)
This was not intended to be a guest blog. I have several writings on death that I would like to share – as a healthy senior citizen, though. With six strokes behind me (the first was at 49 years old; the last was in 2007) and a couple of “near misses” (May 8, 2018, January 14, 2015), I feel like I have some perspectives worth sharing about the “shuffling off of this mortal coil.”
However, even with that history of vascular events, one cannot tell my medical risks by looking at me, and I function very highly as an active and able-bodied not-yet-silver septuagenarian. Anita and I walk about 3.5 miles a day and I still do odd jobs of construction (no more ladder work, though!).
But then this blog came in my email from Christianity Today (good reading; worth subscribing) and so I put my ideas aside and thought this 47 year-old might have a better way of convincing you of what this old man wanted to say. So read Todd’s essay of knowing better than most of us how much longer (or shorter) he has on this earth. Sobering considerations.
Good News: Tomorrow We Die Why dwelling on our mortality may be good for us. by J. Todd Billings, September 21, 2020
I used to assume that God owed me a long life — to pursue a vocation and family with full strength, to live long enough to become a grandparent. Then, at 39 , I was diagnosed with incurable cancer. The expected storyline of my life was interrupted. Now, as a cancer patient, my expectations have changed. The cancer is likely to cut decades from my life; I experience daily pain and fatigue that drain my strength. While my former expectations of God may seem reasonable, I’ve come to see how I had unwittingly embraced a form of the prosperity gospel. I believed that God owed me a long life.
This assumption is widespread. Among those in the United States who believe in God, 56 percent think that “God will grant good health and relief from sickness to believers who have enough faith,” according to a recent Pew study. In other parts of the world, the percentage of Christians who hold this view is even higher.
In some ways, this belief fits with Old Testament teachings about reaping what we sow. “Trouble pursues the sinner, but the righteous are rewarded with good things,” Proverbs 13:21 says. The prosperity gospel takes nuggets of wisdom like this and combines them with the healing ministry of Jesus in a way that explains illness in a clear axiom: Since God loves us, he doesn’t want us to be sick. So if we don’t have good health, it must be a consequence of personal sin, or at least a lack of faith on our part. One way or another, the ill person is to blame. While many evangelicals would reject this “strong” form of the prosperity gospel, many of us accept a softer version, a corollary: If I’m seeking to obey God and live in faith, I should expect a long life of earthly flourishing and relative comfort.
Recently, a friend told me about her work as a counselor with middle school youth at a Christian summer camp. On a designated day, campers participated in an activity designed to help them develop empathy in some small ways for people living with physical disabilities. Some students were blindfolded, others had their ears covered, and others sat in a wheelchair for the day’s activities.
Partway through the day, one girl ripped off her blindfold and refused to put it back on. “If I became blind, God would heal me,” she said. She had faith in Jesus and was trying to obey God. Like a predictable transaction, she knew that if she did her part, she could count on God to give her a life she considered to be prosperous. If she became blind, God would fix that.
The problem with this approach is not the belief that God can heal and that God loves us. The issue is that the God of Scripture never promises the type of prosperity this camper so confidently expected. Certainly, when healing comes, including through the means of medical treatment, it is a good gift from God. When we feel like we are in a dark “pit,” like the psalmist (Ps. 30:1–3), we can and should lament and petition for deliverance, including in our pain and illness. We rightly ask God for healing, just as we ask the Father for our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer. Yet healing, like our daily bread, is ephemeral, passing away. Whether we live only a few years or several decades, Ecclesiastes reminds us that, viewed through a wide-angle lens, “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart” (5:15).
Every one of us will eventually be struck down by death, a wound that no medicine can heal. Though Proverbs is right to point us to the general wisdom of reaping what we sow, it’s not a divine law of how the universe always works. Job was “blameless and upright” yet suffered great calamity with the loss of his children, his servants, his wealth, and his health (Job 1:1, 13–19; 2:7–8). The apostle Paul served Christ and the church sacrificially in faith yet was not granted deliverance from his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7–10). When it comes to mortality and the losses that come with it, none of us will be exempt. Although we tend to push away such basic human realities in our daily life, I’ve discovered something surprising: For us as Christians, embracing daily reminders of our mortal limits can refresh our parched souls.
Good News Worth Dying For Our lifetime is “fleeting,” our days like a “handbreadth” in relation to the eternal God, Psalm 39 reminds us. Until the Lord of creation comes again to make all things new, we join the psalmist in praying: “Lord, let me know my end, and what is the measure of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a few handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing in your sight.” (vv. 4–5, NRSV)
This prayer contrasts with commonly shared cultural assumptions today. Our tendency to construct tales about ourselves on Facebook and Instagram, for example, is part of a larger cultural liturgy — a set of practices shaping our desires — that subtly leads many of us to assume that we are at the center of the universe and that our story, if not our actual number of years on earth, will never end. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed these assumptions as illusions. The fact that refrigerated trucks were required to gather the bodies of the dead in cities like New York and Detroit is jarring testimony that highly developed nations are not immune to unexpected death. Moreover, as protests about the killing of unarmed black people have disclosed, the assumption that “my storyline will never end” is a culturally privileged one. The black church and other marginalized communities are painfully aware of the fleeting nature of human life. “Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus,” the Negro spiritual intones. For “I ain’t got long to stay here.”
Our mortality was not so easy to avoid in earlier generations. Beyond the reality that life-threatening communicable disease was an ever-present threat, the culture of death in America was more communal. Funeral services served as consistent reminders of human mortality as whole congregations attended, including children. These services traditionally focused on how we are not our own but belong to Christ in life and in death. In contrast, it is more common now to have personal memorial services tailored to the particular life story of the deceased, with only family and friends attending. We may care about someone else’s death, but only when it’s meaningful for our own story. Our own story counts the most. Death is something that happens to other people.
Psalm 39 cuts through such illusions, yet it is charged with hope. Though we are temporal creatures, we can still find true flourishing by investing our deepest loves in the one who is everlasting, the Lord. Peter Craigie, a particularly insightful commentator on the Psalms, notes how life’s value must be understood in light of its finitude. “Life is extremely short,” Craigie once wrote. “If its meaning is to be found, it must be found in the purpose of God, the giver of all life.” Indeed, recognizing the “transitory nature” of our lives is “a starting point in achieving the sanity of a pilgrim in an otherwise mad world.” Craigie penned these words in 1983, in the first of three planned volumes on the Psalms in a prestigious scholarly commentary series. Two years later he died in a car accident, leaving his commentary series incomplete. He was 47 [the age of this author].
Craigie’s life was taken before he and his loved ones expected, before he could accomplish his good and worthy earthly goals. Yet in his transient life, he bore witness to the breathtaking horizon of eternity. He bore witness to how embracing our mortal limits goes hand in hand with offering our mortal bodies to the Lord of life. We’re not heroes of the world, and we can’t do much. But we can love generously, and we can bear witness to the one who is the origin and end of life itself — the everlasting Lord, the Alpha and the Omega, the crucified and risen Savior who has accomplished and will bring about what we could never do ourselves.
The Antidote to Death Denial Our faith should not be used as a buffer to shield us from the sobering reality of our own mortality. Indeed, this death-denying attitude, so common in the “soft” prosperity gospel today, is unnecessary because of our hope in God for the resurrection of the dead. In the end, a faith unable to cope with our mortal helplessness is not worth having. The apostle Paul admits this openly: “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith,” he says in his famous chapter on Christ’s resurrection. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor. 15:14, 19). Daily admitting our impotence before death can be a way of giving ourselves over to the risen Lord rather than depending upon our own attempts to manufacture a “prosperous” earthly life.
Strangely enough, admitting our powerlessness over death in this way can free us from slavery to the fear of death. Sociologists, in a school of thought inspired by Ernest Becker’s Pulitzer Prize–winning book, The Denial of Death, have documented how cultures tend to idolize political heroes or national fortunes as a way to deny their mortal limits. When we humans deny our mortality, we become defensive, trusting only our own political tribe or own racial or cultural groups. But living in resurrection hope displaces the need to idolize flawed leaders or whitewash sinful ideological causes. We can openly admit that we cannot defeat death. Instead, we live in trust that on the final day, “when the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory’ ” (1 Cor. 15:54). That day has not yet come — we long for it in the coming age, when Christ’s kingdom comes in fullness. Our hope for it, and in God’s purposes rather than our own, makes a great deal of difference in how we live each day now.
In light of resurrection hope, Paul believed that though “outwardly we are wasting away,” our bodily decay will not have the final word (2 Cor. 4:16). Moreover, even our bodily afflictions are incorporated into the reality that holds us: our union with the crucified and risen Lord. “For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body” (v. 11). Whether or not we have sight or mobility, whether we live 5 or 40 or 90 years, our bodies belong to the Lord, and the process of outwardly wasting away can be a testimony to the humble love of our Savior. Amazingly, the Spirit enfolds bodily failings into his work in the world. As we are witnesses to Christ, the very crumbling of our bodies makes it “clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (v. 7, NRSV). In this way, the anchor of our hope is not deliverance from the process of decay but union with the crucified and risen Christ. This union with Christ will fully blossom in the coming resurrection, sharing in “an eternal glory that far outweighs” our present troubles (v. 17).
The Gift of Mortality Reminders According to Martin Luther, even when our bodies feel vibrant and dying seems to belong to a far country, we should make death a frequent acquaintance. “We should familiarize ourselves with death during our lifetime,” he wrote in a 1518 sermon, “inviting death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move.” Why does Luther advise this? His reason is not a morbid proclivity but rather the same reason the psalmist refers to life as merely “a few handbreadths” before God: Death punctures our hubris, our sense that the world is a drama in which we are the focal point. Reminders of our death can point to the God of life — the God who put flesh on dry bones — as our only hope, both now and in the age to come. As Luther reminds us, “since everyone must depart, we must turn our eyes to God, to whom the path of death leads and directs us.”
On hard days and easier days, amid joy and pain, I’ve come to embrace mortality reminders as strange but good gifts. They can ground me as a mortal before God. We live in hope that the frailty and decay of our bodies will not be the final measure of our lives. We live in hope that the central drama of the universe is not our own life story. Instead, living as small creatures, we can rejoice in the wonder and drama of God’s love in Christ.
Our present life will end when, like Job, we as creatures are stripped of family and fortune and worldly future. But even in light of this mortal end — indeed, especially in light of it — we can join the apostle Paul in being “convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39).
Todd Billings is the Gordon H. Girod Research Professor of Reformed Theology at Western Theological Seminary in Holland, Michigan. His latest book, The End of the Christian Life: How Embracing Our Mortality Frees Us to Truly Live is available at bookstores and on Amazon.
“To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” (Matthew 13:11-12)
Robert John Gerald Jacob, affectionately known as Bob. died to this world in his house on Monday, September 21, 2020, surrounded by his wife, children and grandkids.
Bob was born on in 1943 in Brooklyn, NY and grew up in Edgewater Park. He attended King’s College, New York University, C.W. Post College, Rockefeller University, the University of Syracuse and the University of Chicago. His choice of college in Long Island University endeared him to me 😉 , and I remember his hearty laughter when we wet in the University of Kentucky and he heard MY name. He said something clever at the time, along the lines of, “Did they name the college after you!? Oh, I must’ve gone to your cousin’s college!” His New York accent was also something I treasured as it reminded me so much of time I spent in New England meeting people from “The City” visiting.
After completing his PhD, he moved to Lexington in 1978 with Gretchen and their three sons. He was a Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Kentucky from 1978-2015, teaching medical and dental students. He also had a strong passion for research, where he mentored an abundance of students with an interest in the field. In his time of research he obtained many historic findings, awards and publications, making sure that his work meant something to the world, and more importantly, to his students.
Anita and I met Bob at First Alliance Church about the same time he and I met on campus, around the middle of 1991. I am not really sure which came first, but I definitely remember that meeting in FAC! Ron Gifford was making some astute point in his excellent manuscript sermon when a voice boomed out at the back of the auditorium, “Teach us, preacher!”
For Anita and I, used to more sedate church meetings, this made us look at each other with wide eyes! Someone yelling at the pastor!? Okay, supportive yelling, but loud enough it reverberated across the room! Eventually we heard Bob’s favorite classic, “Give me Jesus!” in response to something the pastor had said.
After service we met in the tiny foyer and smiled sheepishly at this robust University professor who was unashamed of identifying himself as a follower of Jesus. Our friendship went deepest when he supported Anita during turmoil over her tenure. He proved to be a wise advisor, a valued confidant on the Faculty Senate, and a reliable friend.
Most of all, he unabashedly embraced Jesus Christ and His lordship in his life, unafraid of what others thought of him. As much as anyone I have known, Bob exemplified Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10: “Have no fear of [men, religious leaders, governors, kings], for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” A man without fear.
And so he went to Heaven last Monday, and I cried when I received the news. Not because I felt sorrow for him, but moved with compassion for Gretchen, his children and grandkids and all of us who will miss his laughter, bright smile, wise and scrutinizing eyes. He will be greatly missed until we join him around the Throne of the Lamb.
And so it goes. With each passing of a saint the world gets poorer unless we can find another who will shine Jesus’ light into the darkness; show Jesus’ love to the unlovable; give our lives to honoring the King of all Kings, just as Bob did.
So earth became poorer with Bob’s passing. A light of the world has gone out on this side, but shines even brighter in his real Home. Heaven certainly is richer with Bob’s booming voice calling out to the angels, “Just give me Jesus!”
Ruth Ginsburg, the Supreme Court Justice, died last night. This will be a testing ground for the election to come in November as Trump and Mitch McConnell move to fill the vacancy as quickly as possible. Mr. Trump had already released a list of potential replacements, his intent focusing on the next four years in an assumption that he would be reelected.
Before Obama left office, Democrats screamed for immediate confirmation of Merrick Garland, but McConnell deferred because it was an election year. As Senate majority leader, he was able to prevent the nomination from ever being considered for confirmation. After the 2016 election, Trump then nominated Neil Gorsuch to fill the seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia whose 2016 death was, itself, a surprise and inspired some conspiracy theories.
Now, in another election year, Mitch McConnell is labeled by the left, and Chuck Schumer in particular, as a hypocrite because he intends to see the nomination of Trump’s pick through, even though closer to the election than Garland’s nomination was.
The only thing you can say about politicians is they will be politicians. McConnell was fully within the scope of his authority as the elected Senator from Kentucky, and duly elected Senate Majority Leader, when he prevented Garland’s nomination from proceeding. He is still within his scope of authority to process the next nomination, even though this is mostly inconsistent with his public reasoning for denying the process to Garland.
However, Merrick Garland was nominated after a mid-term election which repudiated Barack Obama’s and the left’s overreach. Through a Senate majority of the opposing party the electorate said they did not want more leftist policies enforced by an activist judiciary. Now, four years later, you have that same electorate still with their Senate majority depending on the Senators to act like they were elected.
Schumer, on the other hand, is hardly without his hypocrisies. He actually voiced in a public forum that Justices Gorshuch and Kavanaugh “would pay the price” after the next election! Words that from a conservative about a liberal justice would have been prosecuted as threatening the judiciary. But he excused himself by saying, “That’s just the way we New Yorkers talk.” Yeah, right.
How will this be a testing ground? Look for the “left” to rally, riot and cause mayhem for any judge foolish enough to allow his or her name to be offered by Trump unless said judge pays homage to the twin idols of the left, the goddess of Abortion and the god of Gender Dysphoria.
If this it the attitude and composure (or lack thereof) by the political left over Trump’s administration back in 2018, what will be the outflow when he tries to appoint another Supreme Court Justice? If you watched the travesty of Justice Bork’s Senate hearings , where “borking” became a verb, that was just a foretaste of what is to come when Trump submits his nominee for the Court.
What the left cannot accomplish at the ballot box, they have depended on an acquiescent court to force through with rulings redefining marriage, justifying social engineering and transforming our society into a hodge-podge of anti-Christian values. Now that “originalists” are about to get a majority on the Supreme Court, they fear their last resort of forcing social change to allow unrestricted abortion and foster an anti-traditional family perspective is going to slip away, possibly for a generation.
What is most interesting is that even in the age of Antifa, BLM and socialism’s rise in the US, the conservative foundations of our country still refuse to metamorphose into the riotous posture of those who oppose them. The Judeo-Christian roots that seem to be slipping away in the younger generations still reach down far enough to constrain those who are angry at the injustices of those who cry, “No Justice, No Peace.”
Those roots are deep into the theme Jesus taught, “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” Beyond just the kindness to a neighbor, our ethics call us to love even our enemies. And that is a tough one! LOVE the protester who threw bricks through my storefront? Love the pyro who set fire to my car? Love the Marxist who feels like everyone else should give him in “reparations” whatever loot he may be able to steal?
It is always sad when someone of dubious spiritual standing dies. Whether Ruth Ginsburg knew Jesus clearly enough to trust Him for salvation is left to speculation until each of us follows her through that Door of No Return. However, her legacy is stained by her political statements before President Trump’s election. Granted that she apologized for the statements which she regretted as “incautious” . . . but the internet is a harsh new master who will not forget, nor let anyone else do so.
9/11/01 was a beautiful fall day across most of the country, especially up in the northeast around NY and New England. But where ever you lived in the US, the day changed you. It changed our nation. It changed me.
The ACLJ, the American Center for Law and Justice produced a thoughtful and solemn one hour commemoration of the events of that day, with interviews with a handful of some of the people most directly affected. It tells several stories from first responders and families who lost loved ones.
Tastefully presented, it does not glorify the gore or the terrorists who are to be pitied for their attempt to please a god who wanted them to kill and destroy. Those of us schooled in the Bible know well enough who that ‘thief/god’ is. Remember those who lost their lives that day, who are listed at the end of the production.
Yesterday (July 15, 2020) I addressed a promising treatment that has been in clinical trials since May of this year. While a clinical trial provides the last word for medical researchers as well as major medical centers and hospitals, a doctor in the US has the prerogative of prescribing medicines “off-label,” meaning if the doc decides there is benefit for a particular patient he/she can prescribe Vaporub for treatment of lymphoma. 😀
While researchers and agencies wait for clinical trial results, some doctors like Dr. Bartlett are going ahead with their own therapy of Inhaled Cortico-Steroid (ICS) for the Wuhan Virus, and counter to advice to reserve it for when a patient becomes seriously in need of oxygen, his idea is to provide it as soon as Covid-19 is diagnosed. The patients he has successfully treated are ecstatic that their doctor solved a health crisis for them.
But then we ask, what is there to fear about Covid-19? For a Christ-follower there should not be any reason to fear this disease. Lane Martin said when he was 17 years old, “Nothing happens TO a Christ-follower. Filtered by His love, it only happens FOR us.”
That does not mean a Christian should act foolishly. If you jump off a cliff God will probably not cushion your landing just to prove a point. This was Jesus’ warning to those who wanted proofs in miracles. (Matthew 12:38-39) He is not into magic tricks. So if you attend a church service with infected people singing vigorously, you may get the disease. Or you may not. And even if you do, barring other underlying health issues, you will probably recover. And even if you have underlying health problems, Inhaled Cortico-Steroids may just be what the doctor ordered. ASK YOUR DOCTOR!
Results from the Recovery Trial in England are significant: “The preliminary results from the RECOVERY trial are very clear – dexamethasone reduces the risk of death among patients with severe respiratory complications. COVID-19 is a global disease – it is fantastic that the first treatment demonstrated to reduce mortality is one that is instantly available and affordable worldwide.”
In the meantime, even before the Recovery trial the number of recoveries far exceeds the number of deaths to the tune of 97% to 99.75%! As of yesterday, July 15, 2020, the CDCP was reporting less than 4% of diagnoses are resulting in death in the US. While some, like the Washington Post, try to massage numbers to make this number look like an underestimate, the fact that many more are probably infected makes 4% probably a very high estimate. That said, the number of deaths attributed to Coronavirus exceeds deaths to other diseases, e.g. flu, but these numbers become suspect when we learn that anyone with the virus is counted as a Covid-19 death, even if some other illness may have caused death. (The attached photo of Wolf Blitzer is a joke, folks, so don’t anyone blow a gasket!! 😉 )
Add to this that numbers from even medical labs are coming under suspicion as some Florida labs were reporting 100% POSITIVE rates which at first glance looks really bad, but it turns out they were NOT reporting negative results!? These lab reports are being fixed by the Florida Department of Health, but what of labs that only over-report less than 100%?
Who can one trust when police and protesters are suspect, when labs are suspect, when politicians on both sides of the election are concerned with ballot-authenticity, when they will say anything to get elected/reelected? And why is Biden’s camp escalating groundless fears that Trump will refuse to concede results if Biden is elected? Who do you trust!?
I do not trust Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer or Justice John Roberts. But neither do I trust Donald Trump, Kevin McCarthy, Senators or any other supreme court judges. (Okay, I trust Mitch McConnell, so far, but that’s because I know him.) But more than any of these, I trust that The God Who Is Here is reeeally here. He sees what is happening in our health ‘crisis,’ in our politics, in our world. He is here and He is not silent (with apologies to Francis Schaeffer).
For the Christ-follower who is schooled in the Bible, we must remember that Father determines who will be our President, who will rule Russia, who will be the leader of China, and this is true of all the nations (Daniel 2:21, Psalm 22:28, Romans 13:2). So if all the leaders of the world are first of all chosen by God, how do we account for the Khans, Hitlers, Stalins, the Obamas and the Trumps? There is more to this answer than I can give in a short blog, but we can live in confidence that He has it all under control.
So what is there to fear? Nothing at all! Not Covid-19, not Trump, not Biden, not Antifa, not KKK! The most important aspect of this is to obey the Holy Ghost of God, the leading of His scripture and the example of the Lord, Jesus, the Christ. My friend, Larry Smith, has served a growing Christian community for over 35 years in a country that is still over 90% Muslim and less than 1% Christian. His comment to me once when I asked him if he felt safe in such a small minority and facing an expansion of radical Islam was, “C.A., there’s no safer place to be than where God wants you to be.”