Prepare or Perish; I Cannot Be Quiet.

“Come, NOW is the time to worship.”

2021-03-27 House on FireI 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.”

We have looked at the Scriptures for what Jesus, the apostles, and Old Testament prophets taught about hell and its misery.  Gehenna (translated ‘hell’ or ‘fiery furnace’ or similar analogies) was the garbage dump outside Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”  This was His picture of hell; a place not intended for human habitation, but where those who cannot serve their purpose wind up; a place of disposal; strangely, a place “chosen” by those who will reside there because they refuse to trust the Creator and Jesus, in [whom] the whole fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily

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 know and will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites.  In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

He then tells the 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 IS Lord.  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 capost3k@gmail.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.

 

Hell Is Authentic


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 Him is 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.

Evil Is Evident; Hell Is Authentic; Prepare or Perish.

This title is not stated as a threat or with any glee.  It is written with trembling knees, a heart full of prayer and sincere desire that anyone reading it may find Life and NOT perish.  The title is simply the statement of three facts which I will address in three blogs.  Though Jesus spoke much more about the Kingdom of Heaven, we would be remiss if we skipped these subjects that He and the Bible address.

Fairy Tales
2021-03-27 WickedSome would like us to believe in fairy tales; happily ever after endings without consequences for wrong behavior.  Or at least, let’s provide some context which makes wrong choices understandable and tolerable since the villain had it so rough.  So Wicked becomes a Disney retelling of Sleeping Beauty that makes Maleficent an unfortunate victim of her circumstances.  Romulans actually are nice guys, just with slightly different means of expressing the same values as Federation members.  Natasha Romanoff (or Black Widow) had a rough childhood; fortunately, she falls in love with a good guy and joins the Avengers.  Severus Snape, the epitome of evil with black cape, boots and a penchant for scaring Potter’s goodniks, turns out to be working for Dumbledore all along.  Another black-robed villain, Darth Vader is given reasons for his turn to the dark side.  And the Terminator turns out to be a misunderstood robot who just needed reprogramming.  Don’t we all?

So in this alternate universe Hitler would be mistreated by his dad and abused by a Jewish teacher.  Stalin was a nice kid who just got involved with the wrong crowd, and Pol Pot was very poor and had to steal food to survive as a child.

Unfortunately, alternate “universes” do not exist (with no apologies to Stephen Hawking).  By definition, universe means ”the totality of known or supposed objects throughout space; the cosmos.”  There cannot be another “universe” that contains that totality; that is an absurdity for which there is not a grain of evidence except in the minds of Star Trek viewers like Hawking.

Not Innocent, Only Incompetent
2021-03-27 Not Innocent Just IncompetentWe are the product of choices we make throughout life, beginning with infancy when we want the blocks the other baby has.  Shortly after most children master “Mama,” most also learn “Mine!”  Children are not innocent; they are simply incompetent.  Given the power, the mass of them would eliminate any opposition with a flick of Potter’s wand and simply kill anyone that prevents them from getting their way.

You and I were like that!  We had to be taught that there were better things than getting our own way all the time.  Most of those lessons were learnt through experience, the best teacher, but hardly the kindest.

In The Great Divorce, C.S.Lewis illustrates these choices among those who refuse Heaven because of what they want.  From the dishonest intellectual to a greedy materialist; from a religious hypocrite to a self-deprecating egomaniac; from a mother who preferred to drag her child into hell rather than forfeit control to a tragedian who loved his own misery rather than accept joy that was offered.  “Better to reign in hell than serve in Heaven.” (Milton)

There are those who will choose their own way rather than God’s way even at the pain of death.  And from their choices will come every kind of evil from murdering unborn children to killing the elderly who no longer “contribute to society” to justifying what once were considered perverse lifestyles.  Like Lewis’ Ghosts they will couch their evil in beautiful sounding words like Social Security, Affordable Care, For The People, Toleration or Government Protection, but what they really want is selfish aggrandizement, physical comfort, control of others and power for themselves.

Can’t We All Just Be Nice?
2021-03-27 House on FireEvil is real and it does not go away just because we try to be “nice” to each other.  Real love is much harsher than the pablum pop psychology puts out today.  If a neighbor’s house is on fire, would we be “nice” and say, “Let’s not upset him; wait till it’s convenient to tell him?”  NO, the “loving thing” to do would be to bang on his door, disturb his “peace,” and warn him to get to safety!  So it is that if we fail to warn people of the reality of evil and its consequences, we are simply “nice neighbors” who do not care if our acquaintances die.

Trying to be nice to some people is like appeasement of Hitler just prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.  There was a madness sweeping Europe and the Fuhrer was simply its pawn.  This does not excuse him of the war’s atrocities, but remember he was as deceived as those he was deceiving (See 2 Timothy 3:12-13), an evil-doer going from bad to worse.

Paul had this to say to his protégé pastoring in Ephesus:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared,  who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” (1 Timothy 4:1-3)

And again some time later:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.” (2 Timothy 3:1-9)

Children of the Day
2021-03-27 Children Of The DayWe are called to be light in a darkening world, salt to a rotting, tasteless culture (Matthew 5:13-16).  The times will become darker yet, as political leaders lie more, as religious conviction becomes labeled “Hate Speech,” as bureaucratic alignments for economic and national interests bring together enemies of Israel, as whole societies call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:8-30)

However, though evil is real and becomes more evident, we are called “to walk in the Light, even as He is in the light.” (1 John 1:5-9)  We must stand distinctly apart from liars and deceivers who say, “Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:13-15)  And we pray for the deceived that they may see the Truth (Ephesians 4:18-19)

The Children of the Day recorded this song back in 1979 based on 1 Thessalonians 5:5-9.
When your heart is dark and empty and new shadows start to fall;
When cluttered fears and sin are the writing on your wall;
Your confusion and your doubts are always lurking left and right,
Don’t try to drive the darkness out; you just turn on the light.

We’re the children of the light, and we’re the children of the day.
We need not always stumble in an ever darkening way.
Though the darkness will close in around with shadows everywhere,
Still Jesus Christ is in our life, the Light of the world is there.

Next week, , I will discuss what Jesus and the Apostles taught about hell.  It’s not pretty.

An Aboriginal Mental Challenge: Can You Read Without Preconceptions?

2021-02-27 G.K.ChestertonG.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 something about 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? 😉

2021-02-27 Biblegateway

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 (capost3k@gmail.com) 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

Intermezzo: So Sad. Is This What WE Have Become?

So sad. Is this what we have become?

Streets of Washington, D.C. on November 2, 2020

When Isaiah the prophet met The God Who Is Here he moaned in distress, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” Notice he did not blame “the sinners” in his society. He did not blame “the protestors,” the idolaters, the child-killers, the ones many perceived as causing problems. He did not blame “the other side.”

He owned his people’s sin. He recognized his complicity and confessed, “I am the man unclean.” It is easiest to see the “others” at fault, and yes, their sin is evident. But Isaiah “saw the LORD” and realized he was as much to blame, because he saw “the other” as someone else. “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions.” (George W. Bush)

So watch the one minute video read the short article at the link (by the same title as the video), and pray, “Woe is me! For I am lost.” It is not that “they” are destroying “us.” It is what WE have become.

https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/11/02

https://capost2k.wordpress.com/commentary-by-virginia-allen/

Time heals all wounds . . . NOT!

Please forgive my use of an old idiom in the title, the “NOT.”   Then again, I have an excuse, so I prefer your understanding to forgiveness.  Recall last week I noted that when we have excuses, we only need understanding, not forgiveness.  Forgiveness only functions when the offender is without excuse, which is the main reason it is so very hard to forgive.  Besides, “time heals all wounds,” right?  We’ve heard this mantra for generations and it even shows up as a “word” in Merriam-Webster and in Dictionary.com!

Sophocles.jpgMost attribute “Time heals all wounds” to Chaucer in Troilus and Criseyde: “As tyme him hurt, a tyme doth him cure.”  But such imprecise quotations should take us back to Sophocles, the ancient Greek playwright (495-406 B.C.), who said, “Time eases all things” in Oedipus, the King.  However, as illustrated in the play, this proved false.  Time could not heal the problems in that family!  Even the deaths of the parents and Oedipus’ blinding did not heal the wounds, but only solved the problems in the nation.  The personal injuries followed . . . rather, chased . . . the individuals to their graves.

In the same way time will not heal the wounds in your family, or in your former friendships, or in your job, or in any relationship where you have been deeply injured.  Time does not have the power to heal.  Rather, we may forget some offenses over time, but if reminded of them, we will find the pain and the hurt of the offense is still there, even after 60 years or more!  Like peeling a scab off an old scar, fresh blood will flow again, and we will find the wound is still there.  In some cases, reminders of the impairment will keep it continually fresh even over years passing as if we were constantly picking at the scab, rehearsing every detail of the wrongdoing and sometimes even worsening the offense as we embellish with added “memories” of what happened.

This is reflected in reverse in the Love Chapter, 1 Corinthians 13: “[Love] keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (13:5-6)  Think of this in contrast to the man who says, “I remember the twelve years ago like it was yesterday.  She had on those red shoes she used to wear.  It was a Saturday morning and was raining.  The neighbor was mowing his lawn in the rain when she knocked at the door, and she said …”  Love does not keep these records.  “Regret cannot change your past; worry cannot change your future.  Only forgiveness can change your past; only trust can change your future.” (Steve Elliott)

But, you may say, what about someone who keeps on offending!?  Must I forgive him/her continually?  Well, yes and no.  If an offender is genuinely repentant of their fault, we are called on by Jesus to continually forgive (Matthew 18:21-22).  The key here is the repentance.

Repentance means a turning away from a former way of doing things.  An alcoholic may repent of his drinking many times, but still fall prey to his weakness and lapse into a drinking binge.  He genuinely repents each time but can only succeed with significant outside help and guidance, e.g. AA or some other program that offers forgiveness as well as assistance to avoid the temptations.

John The BaptistHowever, there are times a prophetic caution should be given such as John the Baptist gave to his hearers when he was attracting big crowds: He said therefore to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance.’” (Luke 3:7-8)  Not exactly what one would expect from today’s seeker-friendly sermons, but led by the Holy Spirit, John addressed the “penitents’” problems.  They were looking for an easy fix that did not involve a real heart change!

James, the brother of Jesus, also understood this.  In his short letter to the dispersed Jews who had fled the persecution in Jerusalem, he repeatedly advised on his theme, “Faith without works is dead.” (James 2:17)  A wise man once said, “We are saved by faith alone, but not faith that is alone!” (Dr. Ronald Wright)

So how do we know when a penitent is genuine?  How can we be sure when we forgive we will not get burned . . . again?  Unless the Holy Spirit reveals this to us, we cannot know.  We must proceed on the basis of our understanding and the love God puts in our hearts, sometimes a love intended to be wounded.  Just as Jesus knew He came to go to the cross, there may be people in your life who you must let crucify you.  As painful as that may be, there will be a joy set in front of you that will help you endure (Hebrews 12:2) and continue to forgive as our Lord prayed from his execution stance, “Father, forgive them because they do not realize what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)

However, forgiveness, when it comes from your heart, is transformational!  First you will be transformed by your choice to forgive.  You will find the prisoner of your anger or bitterness was never the offender at all.  You were the one bound in the prison of your own acrimony.  Then, free from the bitterness, you will find your forgiveness may be transformational in the life of the offender you forgive, just as Jesus’ forgiveness has transformed you.  Of course, the power of your forgiveness to transform another is entirely dependent on his/her willingness to be forgiven.

As strange as it may seem in a discussion of forgiveness, there are those who will refuse forgiveness.  Either they will take offense at thinking that you think they need your forgiveness, or they will be too full of pride to admit that they know their need, unwilling to be humble and accept your forgiveness.

As strange as this may seem in such an academic exercise, in the “real world” experience of forgiving and being forgiven there are hard choices to make and some may prefer to wait and hope that time will heal the wounds.  Sadly, it will not.  As C.S.Lewis noted in The Great Divorce, 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. Those who knock it is opened.”

So if you are offended, forgive.  Time will not heal the wound.  Forgiveness will.

 

The Choice of Ways So Small, The Event So Great

When I was a child the Good News of the Gospel was usually couched in fear that if you did not “get right with God” you would go to hell; basically, cosmic fire insurance.  We were told in no uncertain terms that we must repent of our sin, which seemed to mean to confess it to God (fortunately not to anyone else!) and He would forgive the bad stuff we had done.  Not very good for Good News.

These days the word “repentance” is hardly ever uttered from pulpits in America, so much so that I do not recall the last time I heard it in a meeting of the church.  (This does not mean it was not discussed; I may have missed it or be forgetting a sermon or two.)  The focus appears to be on the wonderful plan God has for your life and surrendering your will to His.  Just figure out what God wants you to do and allow Him to work it out through you.  Mostly this seems to come from one Dr. Z. Hodges of Dallas Theological Seminary who wrote in the 1970s:

“One of the most striking facts about the doctrine of repentance in the Bible is that this doctrine is totally absent from John’s gospel. There is not even so much as one reference to it in John’s twenty-one chapters… Since John’s Gospel omits the message of repentance, are we to conclude that its gospel is not the biblical gospel after all? The very idea carries its own refutation. The fourth evangelist explicitly claims to be doing evangelism (John 20:30-31). It is not the theology of the gospel of John that is deficient; it is the theology found in lordship salvation.”

This sounds all well and good, but the fact that John’s gospel does not mention “repentance” is hardly justification for eliminating this doctrine of historic Christianity.  In fact several points of reasoning show this “theology in lordship salvation” is erroneous and at times downright dangerous.  The result is people who attend church, sing the worship songs and lead in prayer, and then promptly go out and live as though God was not aware of them; at least, they certainly seem unaware of Him!

Repentance means “turning away.”  Plain and simple, it means stop doing what you are doing that is displeasing to God.  It is more than just accepting another plan; it is more than just remorse (Hebrews 12:15-17); it is more than just regret (Matthew 27:3-5).  This is not an attempt to bring back “fire insurance” salvation, but to balance the idea of Jesus’ lordship with the fact that we cannot honor Him as Lord and behave the way we did before.  We must be willing as C.S. Lewis says to go back to where we first left the path.  “Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.  If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

First, the Gospel of John is not the only book the apostle wrote.  Repentance is featured heavily in the Revelation where five of the seven churches of Asia are told to repent.  Ephesus (2:5), Pergamum (2:16), Thyatira (2:22), Sardis (3:3) and Laodicea (3:19) are each issued dire warnings if they refuse to repent.  Refusal to repent is justification for severe judgment in Revelation 9:20-21 and 16:9-11 for those outside the Church.

Further, in John’s letters, although the word “repentance” is again missing, its concept is not.  He goes so far as to say, “the one who makes a practice of sinning is of the devil,” and that one who is born of God “cannot keep on sinning.” (1 John 3:4-10)  Not abiding in the teaching of Christ is paramount to not having God at all! (2 John 9; 3 John 11)  The same can be said of John’s Gospel.  Just read John 3 and try to understand being born again without the repentance clearly called for in 3:16-21!

Furthermore, the argument from absence of “repentance” in John’s gospel is a logical fallacy based on an argument from ignorance, similar in informal logic to the argument from silence.  The Apostle John also never mentions God’s grace in the gospel.  Are we to conclude that we should avoid teaching about grace because of its absence from one book?   One could just as easily contend that because the word “love” does not appear in the Acts of the Apostles, it must not matter to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Lastly, the Gospel of John is one of 66 books in the mini-library that is the Bible (see January 25, 2015).  It is not difficult to do a word search for various words of significance to our relationship with God and find several books that do not mention any of them: justification, sanctification, love, grace, peace, joy, etc.  Our understanding of these themes must be developed based on the “whole counsel” (1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19-21) of the Scriptures.

The Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Peter, Paul, and yes, even Jesus all began their service to the Kingdom with calls to repentance (Matthew 4:17).  Jesus said, “there will be more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine who do not need repentance.” (Luke 15:7)

Biblically, “repentance” that does not result in a change of direction is clearly not repentance.  John the Baptist commanded his listeners to behave in a way that showed they had repented (Luke 3:10-14)  It is not just a change of mind, but a change of mind that results in a change of action.  We will behave according to what we really believe. (See April 19, 2015, Do You Agree or Do You Believe?)

This is not written smugly as though I have found an answer to sin and if you do not, you can go to . . .; God help me if I ever forget the pit from which he brought me.  My heart is for you, dear reader, that you will find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16), strength from Outside yourself to be transformed by the renewal of your mind (Romans 12:2) that will result in a change of heart so that you will be able to worship Jesus as Lord without faking it (Acts 8:20-23).

Nearly they stood who fall;
Themselves as they look back
See always in the track
The one false step, where all
Even yet, by lightest swerve
Of foot not yet enslaved,
By smallest tremor of the smallest nerve
Might have been saved.

Nearly they fell who stand,
And with cold after fear
Look back to see how near
They grazed the sirens’ land.
Wondering what subtle fate,
By threads so spidery fine,
The choice of ways so small, the event so great
Should thus entwine.

Therefore oh, man, have fear
Lest oldest fears be true,
Lest thou too far pursue
The road that seems so clear,
And step, secure, a hair’s
Breadth past the hair-breadth border
Which, being once crossed forever unawares,
Denies return.
the Guide in Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S.Lewis

The Chicken or the Egg – Forgiveness or Forgiving

Which came first: the chicken or the egg?  This is one of those questions that gives most evolutionists fits, but the intelligent ones like Richard Dawkins or Stephen Hawking, who really analyze the possibilities, come up with plausible solutions, though statistically phenomenal; along the lines of ten raised to the number of atoms in the universe.

Chicken or the Egg.jpgFor the creationist, this is not a problem.  After “The Big Bang” of Genesis 1:1-2, God went on a working binge and day by day created everything, noting that on the fifth day He made the birds.  Now whether He created chickens right then is anyone’s guess, but He created each creature “according to its kind.”  He may have made a generic bird that evolved into Rhode Island Reds, Cornish Game Hens and Butterball Turkeys, but it started with a bird who could lay eggs.

Forgiveness from The God Who Is There and forgiving those who offend us is not so clear.  Which comes first?  Jesus said very explicitly that 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.” (Matthew 6:14-15)

Forgiven SinsThen He goes around willy-nilly forgiving people without even asking them if they have forgiven those who offended them.  See Mark 2:1-5 and Luke 5:16-20, one of Jesus’ earlier miracles where He simply carte blanche forgives a paralyzed man prior to healing him.  In Luke 7:47-48 He forgives a prostitute; again, no questions about her forgiving of those who have abused her.  The preachers in Acts never once asked for psychological histories of their hearers; they simply told them to repent of their sins and they would be forgiven.  James, the half-brother of our Lord, later wrote instructions that connected physical healing to forgiveness of sins without any caveats.

Men as Trees
People Like Trees

So which comes first, the forgiveness of God or the forgiving others from our hearts?  To consider this we can look at another healing of Jesus in Mark 8:22-26.  Here Jesus spit on the man’s eyes (not very hygienic, but hey, He is the son of God!), laid His hands on him and asked, “Do you see anything?”  Really?  Did Jesus not know if He had healed the guy!?  So the guy said he could “see people, but they look like trees walking.”  Again, Really?  Did Jesus goof??!!  Well, He fixed it next, because He laid His hands on his eyes again, giving him a second touch, and the guy could see everything clearly.

You see, Jesus did not (nor does He now) “goof!”  So consider the reason for this phased in healing.  After the first touch, could the man see?  Well, sorta.  Well, not really, not functionally.  Yet he was no longer blind.  I suspect Jesus saw the future analysts of spiritual matters trying to fill in the details in their theologies and He wanted to say, “Not everything is so cut and dried as your theology; sometimes our relationship is a work in progress.”  Then He completed the work with a second touch!

In the same way, our question of which comes first, Forgiveness From God or Forgiving Others, is a work in progress, not so simple as whether God created chickens or eggs first.  Just as chickens and eggs are now inextricably intertwined, forgiveness from The God Who Is There is inextricably intertwined with forgiving those who have offended us.  But the working out of this is that sometimes we “see people, but they look like trees walking.”

When you experience the forgiveness of God it must work its way into your heart to such a depth that you cannot hold a grudge.  Or if you have an offender in need of forgiveness, and you forgive him/her, you will find yourself experiencing a level of forgiveness from God that you have not known before.  Whichever comes first, look for that “second touch” from Jesus!  Because in the end, He will look at our hearts, and if we have not forgiven those who have offended us, it will show that we have never fully understood (nor accepted) His forgiveness.  See Matthew 18:21-35 for a more complete picture of this.

Tramp for the Lord.jpgThe details of this works its way into our lives like in Corrie ten Boom’s meeting (reported in Tramp for the Lord).  After talking about God’s grace and forgiveness in one of her church presentations, she saw a smiling man at the back of the small auditorium coming forward and her heart went into her stomach.  She recognized him as one of the Nazi guards at the POW camp where she had been unjustly imprisoned.  Here was a man who had stood over the women of the camp as they were paraded nude into showers (which later were turned into gas chambers).  “The man who was making his way forward had been a guard — one of the most cruel guards. Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out. I was face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze. ‘Fraulein, will you forgive me?’”  She prayed, Oh, God, I cannot forgive this man; You must forgive him through me.  And as she extended her hand she felt a wave of the Holy Spirit pass through her and the man was forgiven, by both God and Corrie!

So which comes first?  The Forgiveness of God or Forgiving Others.  They are inextricably intertwined, like the chicken and the egg.  God’s marvelous creation, you and I, are forgiven and forgiving, even when we “see people, but they look like trees.”  Keep looking and wait for His second touch.

All-Powerful OR All-Good?

Batman vs Superman1.jpg

For those of you who might not be comic book fans, or at least more interested in Marvel’s Avengers than in The Justice League of DC comics, the Lex Luthor character is one of Superman’s continual nemeses.  In the most recent iteration of Superman and Batman, Lex shows up as a brilliant, though maliciously evil, scientist.  The movie was panned by the critics, an assessment with which I agree.  Do not bother renting the video nor streaming it when it becomes available; one of the rare comic book movies that was a total waste of 151 minutes.

However, the movie does a good job in presenting the argument that God must not exist. In a significant point in the movie, Lex confronts Superman with a brief story of how he was abused by his father, and came to the conclusion that “if God is all-good, He could not be all-powerful; if He is all-powerful, He is not all-good.”  batman-vs-supermanAbout the only coherent and useful scene in the movie: to present an atheist’s view of God.  Sadly, even though the “good guys” win in the end, the challenge from Luthor is left unresolved.

Recalling my recent fall that resulted in a broken back, one could wonder, “Well, c.a., why do you continue to believe in a God who could not catch you when you fell, or better yet, prevent you from falling in the first place?  After all, didn’t God promise Jesus His angels would ‘bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone?'”  (Psalm 91:12)  Why could not such promises apply to you?”

Interestingly, this was the same promise quoted to Jesus by Satan when the evil one was trying to get Jesus to assert His own authority apart from the Heavenly Father’s.  (Matthew 4:5-6)  Even if we assume Jesus never hit his thumb with a hammer nor stepped on a nail, one has to wonder what the demons thought when they succeeded in getting the Roman soldiers of Jerusalem to capture Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, and proceed to beat the living daylights out of Him.  Is God the Father all powerful or all good?  How could He possibly be both and allow His own Son to suffer and die?  (What the devils were thinking is a subject for another blog another time.)  This issue for today is The Problem of Pain.  If God is all good, why does He not do something to prevent His children from pain.  If He is all powerful, can He be all good?

This problem arises because of God’s allowance of free will and His time frame for justice.  Free will, by definition, means that one can choose good or bad.  This was the same choice for the first couple in the Garden of Eden: trust (believe in) God or trust Satan (and your own reasoning).  Choose His way or another, but since He is the source of all good, the source of all order and sense in the universe, any other way will become bad, disorderly and senseless.

God’s time frame for justice arches over the ends of the universe He created.  So allowing for free will means He will not change a bat into a feather simply because someone decided to hit another in the head with it.  He will not defuse a suicide bomber’s vest at the moment of detonation and turn it into a radio.  But His justice will mete out what is right one day, though for the time being, the poor victim at the bat’s end will suffer and the bomber will inflict terrible damage.

This does little for the victims of abuse or of a bomber in the immediate.  If the abuser or bomber repents, there is hope even for him, and there may be elements of redemption for his victims as well.  But rest assured that Abraham’s confession of faith will stand in the end: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”  (Genesis 18:25)

C.S.Lewis covered this subject with much more clarity and wit than I can, so I give you his words to describe the process (with a strong recommendation for the book 😉 ):

“There is a paradox about tribulation in Christianity. Blessed are the poor, but by judgement (i.e., social justice) and alms we are to remove poverty wherever possible. Blessed are we when persecuted, but we may avoid persecution by flying city to city, and may pray to be spared it as our Lord prayed in Gethsemane. But if suffering is good, ought it not to be pursued rather than avoided? I answer that suffering is not good in itself. What is good in any painful experience is for the sufferer, his submission to the will of God, and for the spectators, the compassion aroused and the acts of mercy to which it leads.

“In the fallen and partially redeemed universe, we may distinguish (1) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for His redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute. 

“Now the fact that God can make complex good out of simple evil does not excuse – though by mercy it may save – those who do simple evil. And this distinction is central. Offenses must come, but woe to those from whom they come; sins do cause grace to abound, but we must not make that an excuse for continuing to sin. The crucifixion itself is the best, as well as the worst, of all historical events, but the role of Judas remains simply evil.

“We may apply this first to the problem of other people’s suffering. A merciful man aims at his neighbor’s good and so does ‘God’s will,’ consciously cooperating with the ‘simple good.’ A cruel man oppresses his neighbor, and so does simple evil. But in doing such evil, he is used by God, without his knowledge or consent, to produce the complex good – so the first man serves God as a son, and the second as a tool.  For you will certainly carry out God’s purpose, however you act, but it makes a difference to you whether you serve like Judas or like John.”  C.S.Lewis, The Problem of Pain

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_rR_Rdb1CTE