Musings on Christianity 25

Musings on Christianity 25

How Do We Respond To Suffering

As I type this, it’s been about three months since COVID-19 began. People are afraid. People are sick. People are dying. People are practicing social distancing (I hope) and limiting their activities (I hope).

This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history.

How then should Christians respond to trials? How should a Christian react to pain, loss, sickness, and sadness.

The short answer is to glorify God.

God shows us so much about suffering through the book of Job. Perhaps someone more unfortunate than myself can dispute this, but no one was ever made to suffer more than Job.

Job was blameless and upright (Job 1:1). He had sons and daughters and lots of animals on his farm. He was the greatest of all the people of the east (Job 1:2-3).

One day came when the angels presented themselves before God. Satan was among them (Job 6). God held Job up as an example of the human race. Oh! what a wonderful thought it would be to have God say to his angels, “Have you considered by servant Matthew?” I don’t expect that. What a wonderful thing it would be though. Still, Satan wanted to break that faith, so he established a challenge.

The argument was that Job had no reason to fear God. He had no reason to be angry with God. Satan challenged God to take what Job had, and that would cause Job to turn away.  Satan meant it to take a servant from the Lord. God used that evil plan for his purpose.

Satan took all of Job’s property and, more importantly, his children. I don’t want to imagine any scenario in which I lose anyone I love, let alone my children. This happened to Job (Job 1:13-19).

Job mourned. He was devastated. But rather than curse God, he worshiped. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”

All that, and Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22).

The challenge became elevated. Job himself was stricken.

There came a point (and this is a large summary of some 40 chapters of Job) where he demanded a trial. During an argument with three friends, he spoke about what he didn’t understand. God challenged that understanding with his own voice from a whirlwind. The rebuke was a series of questions, asking Job how he expected to question God who created everything.

In those questions, Job understood and repented (Job 42:1-6).

There’s a lot to unpack there, certainly more than a single blog could do justice, but Job knew that to worship God in suffering is the best thing to do.

We look at these times, however, and we think inwardly. Job honestly hadn’t done anything wrong when this started. That suffering wasn’t to hurt Job. Yes, it did cause him pain. It absolutely brought tears. But after being exemplified in joy, God exemplified him in suffering for all time.

He was blessed again, more so than ever before. No, I don’t contend that he didn’t miss his sons and daughters he had lost, we all do. The point isn’t that suffering should be fun. The current point is that when we suffer, we tend to ask why.

When I started this book, I choose to start with why we suffer for this very reason. None of us is Job. I’ve sinned, and so have you. The things we have, every thing that we have, are a gift God has given us, and he has every right to take them away. We certainly didn’t receive it because we deserve it. I don’t deserve my wife and children. I don’t deserve my home. What did I really do to urn it in the eyes of God? When I see these things as a gift, I feel all the more wretched because I realize I could treat them better. I could certainly do a better job maintaining my home.

I think I sometimes pridefully covet my possessions because I truly think they were mine, earned by the sweat of my labor and the work of my hands. But who gave me that work ethic? Who blessed me with these hands? 

When I realize nothing is mine, I appreciate it more (if only slightly).

But does this mean we can’t be sad or pray?

No! In fact, offering our prayers and communing with God is always good and right. 

God even gave us a prayer to offer while suffering in Psalm 102.

Does this mean COVID-19 is a test? For some. Is it a punishment? For some. But I’ve said before, God lets the rain fall on both the wicked and the just (Matthew 5:45). Sometimes, rain is just rain. Job’s error was to question the wisdom and rule of God Himself. What I can promise is that it is for the good of those who love Him (even if they don’t yet or ever see it) and His glory.

Heaven is the ultimate reward. It is such a reward that no amount of earthly blessings in any extreme will will be worth anything against it. If we keep our faith in God and worship him, no matter the time, season, or circumstance, that reward is waiting for us. But even in this world, if we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our season of pain can be replaced with such wonderful abundance.

Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. His people were prosperous and blessed until Joseph was forgotten. Then they fell to an age of slavery and pain. They cried out for God, who delivered them and then (in time) gave them the promised land and a king and kingdom that other nations looked to. This pattern holds today.

I’ve had days where I could go to restaurants and tip every employee $20 without so much as feeling the financial impact. I’ve had years where I lived in a small studio, afraid for my life and hungry for something other than a microwave stew and piece of bread. I’ve been alone and isolated. Now I’m almost always near someone who loves me and wants to be with me.

These seasons are seasons. They come, and they go. They bring sadness and joy. All of those things are temporary. God is forever. If He is the object of your focus in every season and at every time, it will be well. If he is the object of your worship, you will be blessed.

This isn’t to imply in any way that we can “earn” our blessings. This is hard for me to articulate. We are saved by grace and grace alone. If we say to ourselves, “Oh, well, I guess I ‘better pray’ so that this will all blow over and I’ll get my blessings when it’s done,” our hearts and minds were never on God. We worship the blessing rather than the one who blesses. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a trade system.

However if our love is for him and we find trouble, we can hold fast to that love. We can glorify Him knowing that He always keeps His promises and will deliver us from the troubled times in our life, either by ending that time and restoring us or by calling us to Heaven, where we can live in glory forever.

In my younger days I probably would have wanted some sort of meter or calendar. Suffer for  40 years for every hundred years of blessing. Suffer for one hour for 23 hours of joy. However, such a system would only guarantee things I don’t want any part of, even if it comes with a guarantee of other joys. Think about it. If I said, I’m going to punch you, but then I’ll give you a hug, does that make it worth it when you make it a trade?

But if love rules your heart, if you walk with someone you love, and you walk together, you do so because that love endures. In our earthly flesh we cling to that love through all our sorrows. I clung to my friends and family when my mother died. it helped.

If we multiply that by the infinite love of God, what trial could possibly overwhelm us?  What sadness could possibly cast us down? More amazingly, what joy could possibly cause us to set it aside? What gift could possibly cause you to forget the one who gave it? Let that love be the center of your thoughts.

For our panel: Do you have a Psalm or Lamentation that you consider in times of suffering? What are some ways to glorify God in the midst of suffering? How do we mourn without sinning? How do we balance the joy of a blessed Earthly life (wealth, health, prosperity) with a love for God? How can we pray when our sadness or remorse is greater than it’s ever been?

Musings on Christianity 23

Musings on Christianity 23

What Are Other Ways to Rebuke?

A Few chapters ago, I mentioned rebuke. I took a brief detour at anger, to establish that anger is not in and of itself sinful. Now we can look at rebuke and see how it was done in the Bible. A quick search of the Bible online shows 89 instances of the word “rebuke.” That would be translations of ga’ar (most commonly), yakhach, and ribh in the Old Testament. We will also see the translation of the word “epitimao” in the New Testament. We’ll also see the word “elegcho.” 

This list probably isn’t extensive. Also, I don’t know Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek. All of this research is done online looking as closely as I can in the time I give myself to write these words.

Some of the times the word “rebuke” appears is more about rebuke than a demonstration of it. They are warnings or requests that one be rebuked or rebuke someone. One example of this is in 1 Chronicles 12:17, where some mighty warriors came to pledge themselves to David. David basically says, “If you’re here to help, great, but if you’re trying to trick me, I pray God rebukes you for it.” 

Because scenes like that are more warnings or requests, we’ll set those aside and only look for actual demonstrations of rebuke.

My studies of the Bible (small and brief though they are), have revealed in my opinion four types of rebuke.

The most common type of rebuke I’ve found is a conviction or an announcement of grievance. Just tell a person what they have done wrong and/or how that wrong made you feel. We see men do this in several instances of the Bible, but God himself does this also.

“After the Lord had spoken these words to Job, the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite: ‘My anger burns against you and against your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right as My servant Job has.’”  (Job 42:7)

This is a great example of this type of rebuke because it both states the wrong (“You have not spoken of Me what is right … “) and expresses how that made God feel (“My anger burns against you … “) 

It is loving to rebuke. Convicting a person of what they’ve done to you and expressing your feelings (in love and truth) is not wrong, but a valid, Biblical course of action only a fool would scoff (Proverbs 9:8)

The next style of rebuke is slower. I actually recall several other examples of this throughout Christ’s ministry, but a lot of those examples aren’t stated overtly as rebukes. This style of rebuke is to allow the wrong doer to expose himself. The one overtly stated example of this is in 2 Samuel 12:1-15. David had just arranged the death of Uriah to cover up adultery. Here Nathan comes and tells David about two men, and how one man who had many sheep stole from a poor man who had only one.

Sure enough, David lashed out in anger and condemned that man. It was only then that Nathan revealed that David himself was the man. That rebuke came with a stern punishment, another form of rebuke in itself. However, there are several examples of Christ Himself placing people in position to convict themselves. That rebuke can often bring people to repentance. I find it interesting that there is only the one overt expression of the word, and even that is in a header, not actual scripture. (Headers, chapters, and verses weren’t any part of original manuscripts.) Still, this is a powerful tool to one who uses it wisely.

I know I’ve just hinted at punishment, but stick with me for a minute while I discuss the third type of rebuke. Punishment is a slippery slope, and I want to give that a bit more context. I also want people to see the other forms first (and there’s a reason for that, too).

The third form of rebuke is to hold back or deny action. You see, we don’t have to wait for someone to do wrong. We can prevent that wrong if it is in our power. It took some study, but I found this method to be true because there were times when people were denied or tried to deny one from taking action.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.” (Malachi 3:11)

“The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent, but they cried out all the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 20:31)

It bears mentioning that I’ve only seen one instance of someone holding another back and it not being overridden, Malachi 3:11. This is because man often tries to hold back one doing what is right. It is possible to hold one back from sin (2 Timothy 4:2), but you must be working to prevent sin. The example in Malachi is a promise from God.  Still, if you see someone about to sin, you don’t have to wait for them or watch them do it, nor do you have to wait for someone to harm you.

In each of these examples, the rebuke was verbal. The characters are telling other characters to stop or be silent. None of the examples I’ve seen that fall under this form of rebuke are physical or violent. That may be coincidence, but I don’t think that should be taken lightly. A stern warning against action can go a long way to helping a person resist temptation.

So, now we come to the final, most extreme form of rebuke. I mentioned punishment in the last chapter, and I still see that pattern holding true. The right of rebuke in the form of punishment is reserved for God Himself and those he places in authority.

Each time punishment is used to rebuke people in the Bible, it is God acting as sovereign ruler. In 2 Samuel 22:16, in a prayer to God, David states (and later quotes himself in Psalm 18:15) that things are laid bare at His (God’s) rebuke.

Hezekiah describes a time of pain and disgrace as a day of rebuke. (2 Kings 19:3)

A more overt example may be Psalm 9:5, “You have rebuked the nations; you have made the wicked perish; you have blotted out their name forever and ever.”

I can’t stress enough how firmly I believe that punishment is reserved to specific people God places above us to enact his chosen punishment. It is His right to rebuke us in this way, and His alone. This is something someone more experienced and trained than I am may be able to help me understand differently, but in the time I’ve been studying, I’ve only ever seen the right of vengeance, punishment, and wrath belonging to God, and the Bible overtly says as much in passages like Romans 12:19.

That leaves us mortals who aren’t in positions of authority (to one degree or another) three other ways to rebuke, and we should. If we rebuke those who wrong us (and more importantly, God), we have an opportunity to gain our brother. More importantly, we have the opportunity to turn this person away before God evokes his right as sovereign judge to punish the wrong doer more sternly.

For those who are interested in my notes, I left a number of them below. They all have Biblical examples where the word “rebuke” is used. I imagine some may want to study this themselves. The references are there for your review if you wish.

 


 

Convict. Speak of wrong and how it made you feel

(Genesis 31:42)

(Genesis 37:10)

(1 Samuel 2:22)

(2 Samuel 19:1)

(Job 42:7)

Allow the wrong doer to expose himself (and punish)

(2 Samuel 12: 1-15)

Hold back (prevent action)

(Malachi 3:11)

(Ruth 2:16)

(Matthew 20:31)

(Mark 4:39)

(Mark 10:48)

(Luke 4:41)

(Luke 19:39)

(1 Timothy 5:20)

Punishment (All of these were from God. Rebuke as a punishment is from God, and it’s usually Biblically bad.)

(2 Samuel 22:16) Poem. States that things are laid bare at his rebuke

(2 Kings 19:3) (punishment is a rebuke)

(1 Chronicles 16:21)

(Psalm 9:5)

(Psalm 18:15) (a quote of 2 Samuel 22:16)

(Psalm 39:11)

 


 

For our panel: Are there other ways to rebuke I haven’t been able to find examples of? What can we do if the one we rebuke refuses? Are we obligated to remain near one who grieves us constantly? Do you have story about a time you’ve had to rebuke someone and how it went you’d like to share? How many times are we obligated to rebuke someone? Yes, we’re taught to forgive as God forgave, but does that also mean we must constantly rebuke a person for the same transgression over and over?

Musings on Christianity 21

Musings on Christianity 21

Do We Have To Forgive Everyone?

There have been times in my life where I felt truly, and honestly offended. I’m not talking about the offense I feel when a guy cuts me off, or a person says something rude to me. Those things bother me, but I can probably get over it with a bit of time. However, I’m talking about the person I trusted with my darkest fears using them against me. I’m talking about a biological father who should have raised me to love and honor God molesting a sibling. I’m talking about a church surrounding my mother and ordering her to forgive that same biological father to keep the marriage united.

When I look at Christ and all he’s done for me, it can be convicting to see how He acted and realize I chose vindication over a forgiving heart. Have you ever wanted someone to be punished? I have. I’ve wanted people to pay for what they’ve done.

But how willing was I to pay for any of my wrong? Not at all. I want all the forgiveness. If that’s so, shouldn’t I then be willing to offer it? 

But do we have to?

Jesus commanded us very clearly to forgive those who ask of it.

“Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying , ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Luke 17: 3-4)

This is easy Christian math. If someone asks your forgiveness, you must give it. We’ve talked for two chapters about why this is important and why we have no right to withhold our forgiveness. This chapter is more about a few areas people may not understand so well. I know I didn’t.

First, let’s look at the mechanics of forgiveness. When we’re offended, Christ orders us to rebuke him. He doesn’t instruct us to yell at him. He doesn’t tell us to punish him. The greek word for rebuke in this verse is epitimeson. It means to censure. You might use it to chide or admonish or warn. That word is used two more times in the Bible (according to my research), Luke 19:39 and 2 Timothy 4:2. In all three there’s an tone of scolding.

We have to approach those who wrong us and address our grievance. We do this for a few reasons: First, we have to let out those feelings. How often have you tried to hold in your anger only for it to explode as something much larger than the initial offense warranted? Rebuking those who sin against us allows us to express our hurt in a healthy manner instead of going nuclear the thousandth time your husband leaves the toilet seat up. Second, it allows the person who wronged you the opportunity to repent.

Now, here someone might tangentially say to himself, “Oh he knows what he did!” or “She should know that bothers me!” Maybe, but this is still Biblically important. We sometimes don’t ask for forgiveness out of shame. We sometimes don’t ask because we think we got away with it. Maybe the person we wronged doesn’t realize we’ve done something to them, but God does, so the need to repent is still there. So even if you know, and you know they know, we still need to allow them the opportunity to repent. Doing so gains us a brother. (Matthew 18:15-17. Cross reference Luke 17:3-4)

In the previous paragraph, I said there is some Biblical importance. There’s also precedent. Let’s look at the first sin:

“He said, ‘Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Genesis 3:11)

Here God, who absolutely knew what Adam had done, shows us exactly what Christ instructs us to do later (it helps when they’re one and the same). He had every right to punish Adam and say, “You know what you did!” But He didn’t. Yes, He did punish Adam, but not before allowing Adam the chance to repent and ask forgiveness. Adam didn’t. He went straight to blaming his wife, who then blamed the serpent. None of them even asked for forgiveness or confessed of their sin. (Genesis 3:12-13).

So, it doesn’t matter if they know what they did or not, we’re commanded to rebuke them. So how did God rebuke them? See the passage above. Even in that situation, God didn’t shout or scream. He asked a question. That’s not the only way to rebuke someone, and we’ll talk more about how to rebuke in the next chapter. For now, please know that rebuke doesn’t in any way mean, punish. Remember, the goal is repentance. That’s God’s goal for us, and so it should be our goal for those who wrong us.

Therefore, we must rebuke those who sin against us. Then comes the essential clause “if he repents.”

No, you don’t have to forgive someone who doesn’t ask for it. God certainly doesn’t. Remember, only those who repent of their sins and accept Christ as their Savior receive their gift.

But, that doesn’t mean we can’t forgive them. It doesn’t mean that our forgiveness doesn’t matter in those cases. Let’s look at what our Savior chose do to even as he Hung on the cross:

“And Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34b)

As He hung there, they ridiculed Him and mocked Him. Not a one of them asked forgiveness during the crucifixion. In Acts, Peter rebukes them and offers them the chance to repent (some of them did). (Acts 2:36)

For those of you who might want to find the plot hole and say Christ didn’t rebuke them, yes, he did. In Luke 23:28-31, Christ very clearly warns the mourners to mourn for themselves, “ … weep for yourselves and for your children …  For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

Now that we’ve tied those ends, we can return our focus to what matters. The simple answer is this: If someone sins against you, and you rebuke them, but they don’t repent and seek forgiveness, you don’t have to forgive them, but you can. And that graciousness will still be applied to you because as you were forgiven, you have forgiven others (Ephesians 4:32).   

Don’t, however, fall for the trap of thinking those who ask “deserve” forgiveness and those who don’t “don’t deserve” forgiveness. Remember, no one deserves to be forgiven. It is a gift, and to be a loving, giving person is wonderful fruit to bear as a Christian. It’s hard to do, but there are so many benefits to a heart God strengthens enough to do so.

Who in this world would blame a person for wanting vengeance of wrong? But if it is grace we want from God, shouldn’t we then offer it to others?

Evil men hold grudges. Evil men plot revenge and mete out punishment. Is that who you want to be?

Be forgiving, so that you are a forgiving person. Be loving, so that you are a loving person. I tell my sons (one of whom is bullied), that if you give in to your hate and mete out vengeance, you only make yourself one of them. This isn’t the same as defending yourself or rebuking those who sin against you. However, when push comes to shove, you can do as others do, or you can do as Christ did. Who is it you want to be like?

A significant portion of this information was at the very least derived from an article by Tabletalk Magazine, by R.C. Sproul.

For our panel: How is forgiveness given? What should one do if the one we’ve rebuked doesn’t repent? What if that person isn’t a brother? If we don’t have to forgive people who don’t ask for it, why should we? Why is it some people seek forgiveness so desperately, but they don’t offer it to others? How does someone help that person see what he’s doing?

Musings on Christianity 20

Musings on Christianity 20

Can Anyone Be Saved? Can Anyone Be Forgiven? Can I ever forgive anyone?

Last chapter was a pretty convicting chapter. It certainly was for me when I saw myself through that filter. However, once a person sees the depth of one’s own sin, the beauty of Christ’s love becomes all the more amazing.

Even in the time of Christ, people had a desire to compare themselves to other men, which is the wrong measurement.

A Pharisee and a tax collector went to pray. The Pharisee told God all the things he wasn’t and all the things he did that made him righteous. The tax collector only asked for mercy. (Paraphrase of Luke 18:9-14)

When we see our own sin, we understand our need. Now, once that happens, we see how merciful God, through Christ, can be.

We also already discussed the thief on the cross. (Luke 23:39-43) If that story doesn’t show you just how wonderful Christ’s forgiveness is, look at one of the most recognizable apostles ever.

Saul  of Tarsus was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. (1 Timothy 1:13) He witnessed at least one stoning and confessed he voted to execute several other Christians before Christ approached him on the road to Damascus.

There are some people who truly mourn their sin. They punish themselves, feeling as though God couldn’t love them because of their sin. On their own, that’s true. With man, it’s impossible to reach Heaven, but not with God. (Matthew 19:26)

Through Christ, any man can be forgiven. Christ, the perfect Lamb of God, paid the price for whatever sin it is you carry. By God’s grace, we can receive the gift of forgiveness. There isn’t a thing you need to do. Heck, there’s not a single thing you could do. It’s a gift! He didn’t do it because you deserve it. That’s what mercy is.

Don’t let the sins you mourn cause you to look away or hide from Christ. Instead, rejoice! Rejoice that those sins have been punished.  The list of our debt was set aside and nailed to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)

Repent means to turn away. I still emphasis the turning away as evidence. Stop the sin that weighs you down. Don’t continue to live in it simply because you feel it’s too late. It’s never too late. The thief one the cross taught us that. Don’t simply live in it because you feel you couldn’t ever be forgiven! Paul taught us that.

This was a huge stumbling block for me. I carried guilt with me, nurturing it in my heart because I thought I deserved to be punished. I took every bad thing that ever happened as evidence of my forsaken nature. I was blind to how wonderful forgiveness is. I was so focused on how horrible I felt, I didn’t realize just how light a burden Christ really is. (Matthew 11:28-30) I thought I had to earn redemption. I thought I had to earn righteousness.

The problem was I knew that one who’d already sinned in any way could never be righteous.

But then I stopped looking to myself. I looked to the only being in all the world in any religion who not only was perfect, but paid the price I couldn’t pay. And He did it for one reason: Love.

The other hurdle was wanting to live in a world where I could be forgiven but others could not be. I wanted to put myself on the throne of God, telling myself my sins weren’t “that bad.” I arrogantly decided that “these” sins were too great, but my sins were so much less horrible, and therefor tolerable. This put me on a horrid cycle of guilt and self-justification.

But then I stopped trying to classify sin and focused instead on Christ, whose blood washed away all sins. This meant I had to let go of my own self-righteousness and hate. Some who read the last chapter will say I’m lying and I’m still judgmental. Stating the truth that the price of sin (regardless of degree) is death is a far cry from offering a list of the saved and the damned. Challenging anyone to look at the sin in their life isn’t a condemnation; it’s simply a challenge.

When you accept that challenge under the correct mindset, realizing that sin leads to death, you realize your need is as equally desperate as any maniac or murderer. Once you see that, you understand that Christ still paid the price.

Through Christ, God forgave my sins. If I were to try and name or list my sins, even just the ones I was aware of and felt guilt over, I’d never be able to get to anything else. But if God forgave me all my sins, shouldn’t I be able to forgive the man who cut me off? Shouldn’t I be able to forgive the father who shattered our family?

Consider the worst sin you’ve ever committed. For you, it may not be “that bad.” Forget for a moment that sin is sin, and your sin is indeed “that bad.” Think about the guilt you carry. How heavy is it? Mine felt like a mountain I couldn’t crawl from under. Through Christ, God forgives. But if he can forgive all your sins, every, single, one, including the one that gives you the most guilt; can’t you then also forgive the person who did the worst thing ever to you?

I’m not saying it’s easy. I’m not saying it’s “fair.” Fair means we’re all condemned. Grace means we deserve punishment, but we’re passed over anyway. Grace means we realize our guilt, but praise God for the gift of grace He’s given us.

Rather than live in a world where “some” people “aren’t perfect” but still get to go to Heaven and “other” people are “much worse” so therefore deserve condemnation, consider for a moment the beauty of a world where even though we’re all wretched sinners, we can have redemption through Christ.

Yes, that means we have to forgive, but is it really so terrible? Again, I didn’t say it wasn’t hard, but is it so awful to think that anyone could be forgiven? Is it so awful when you remember that you were forgiven, too?

Why not forgive as we were forgiven? (Ephesians 4:32)

I acknowledge it’s easier said than done, but I can also tell you from experience that it’s actually easier to forgive than it is to carry that resentment and anger with you your whole life. I can tell you finding the ability to forgive others is easier when you take stock of the sin in your own life first.

This doesn’t mean we just randomly forgive anyone all the time. At least, I don’t think it does. That’s the question I mean to ask in the next chapter.

For our panel: What verses do you turn to, to contemplate how wondrous the forgiveness you’ve received is? What do you do when you know you should forgive, but still find it so hard to actually do? Can God really, really, forgive any sin through Christ? Should a person who honestly doesn’t feel like the’ve commit an “unforgivable sin” contemplate their own salvation?

Musings on Christianity 19

Musings on Christianity 19

Does God Accept Me For Who I Am?

The short answer is no. It sounds brutal and cruel, but that’s just the way it is. Neither is it true to think that Christ doesn’t turn people away. We want to think that He wouldn’t. We want to believe that we can do whatever we want (no matter how sinful) and Christ will just be “cool with it.” But, I say again, that just isn’t true.

There are many who might be outraged by this fact. They will talk about how Christ loved us and Christ died for us. Indeed He did. However, that doesn’t mean everyone is going to Heaven. I want to put a pin on that last clause long enough to finish this first, and most important, thought.

The words of Christ Himself:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven. On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and cast out demons in your name, and do many might works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Readers, if you are under any sort of impression that the simple lip service of “Christ is king,” or “I believe in Christ” is in and of itself enough, you are under the incorrect belief. Those of who you think Christ “doesn’t turn anyone away,” needs to read that entire chapter of the Bible much more closely. 

Who then will he not turn away? Christ gave the answer in the above passage: “ … the one who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.”

Sin is not in any way a part of God’s will.

Why then do we want to pretend otherwise? The answer is in the sin that you love. As a Christian, I want to seek out those sins I’m coveting. Those sins I love more than God. They exist. All people sin. The Christian seeks sanctification. The lost live in their sin.

“No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen Him or known Him.” (1 John 3:6)

I’m of the opinion that we live in a world where we want to be able to sin and still get to Heaven. We want to pervert the love of Christ to mean, “He’ll let me do whatever I want and still take me.” 

It’s a very terrifying moment to realize that’s not true. It was for me. So the next thing people tend to do is try to minimize sin. They try to make some sins more terrible than others, and there are indeed sins God hates more than others, but that doesn’t make the other sins acceptable.

Our human rationalization is, “My sin isn’t all that bad, so I should be OK.”

Sin is bad. You’re not OK. If you live in sin, whatever it is, you don’t know Him, and you haven’t seen Him (see the above verse).

So, let’s go back up to that statement I mentioned above.

Assertion: Not everyone is going to Heaven. I think most would agree. I think if I talked to 1 million people, not one of them would claim everyone is going to Heaven.

But if you’re willing to acknowledge that not everyone is going, you have to then also acknowledge that Christ does indeed turn people away. Who then does He turn away? Refer back to the first passage I quoted in this chapter. Any who doesn’t do the will of the Father, will be turned away.

I’ve said several times that sin is sin. I even tend to not focus on any one sin. It’s just too volatile. Why? Because there are people who love their sin more than their brother (which is actually another sin). There are people who love their sin more than God (yet another sin).

So what happens is mortals rationalize. They say sin is sin from one side of their mouth, and then live in their sin as if that’s justification. Such actions then imply that one can do whatever he wants because sin is sin, but no rational person believes this.

To allow this mental debate to have a resting place, let’s pick a sin that no one fights for the right to do: murder. I’m not even talking about how Christ further defined murder in Matthew 5:21-48. For the sake of this mental experiment, I’m talking about the actual, physical murder of one person by another. I’m fairly confident no one is going to try and justify this act to me in any way. (Of course now some one is going to try some round about manner of justification such as the death penalty or self defense. Please just acknowledge then that all you’re doing is arguing for the sake of dissension and move along.)

I’ve never once seen a social media post or campaign topic that tries in any way to make it OK for people to kill, so I’m sticking with that to avoid more common, more politically acceptable sins.

  If saying, “I believe in Christ,” is enough to get into Heaven in and of itself, then do you believe that a man, a serial killer, could claim such and then continue to kill whomever the thrill of it called him to kill? Of course not! I’d venture to assert that even if a man had killed a hundred people and genuinely repented, falling down on his knees to beg Christ for forgiveness, paying for his crimes by turning himself in and accepting his punishment (You see, punishment by a court of law isn’t murder, those dissenters referenced above), never killing again, you would still want to condemn that man to Hell.

This is because killing is wrong. It is. It’s a sin, but so is the sin you’re holding on to. So too is the sin you want to keep and justify in doing so because that sin is more socially acceptable.

The truth of the matter is the angels rejoice over that murderer who repented and turned away from his sin. They do so more over him than the (self) righteous person who’s never killed a person, but committed several “lesser” sins, believing he is above the need to repent and turn away.  (This is a personal paraphrase of Luke 15:7.)

In my life, I’ve thought about people I wanted to go to Hell. They’d done things no one would argue are evil. I wanted wrath for that sinner and that sin. Then, I wanted grace and forgiveness for my own sin. Am I God that I should choose who goes to Heaven and who doesn’t? No, and neither are you.

Just as man can not condemn another man for their sin, neither can man declare another man righteous. We are not the way to Heaven; Christ is. (John 14:6) 

We only have the written word to guide us, but we need to pay attention to it. We can’t fall into the belief that lip service is enough. We can’t say we believe in Christ and continue to do all the things he said are wrong. We can’t do that any more than an abusive husband can claim to love his wife and continue to beat her. We can’t do that any more than an addict can claim to love her child and then lose him while drugged out of her mind. Even if those people mean what they say, and those statements have some immeasurable truth to them, they can’t argue they love their loved ones more than the sins they commit. No one in Heaven or Earth would believe them.

So then where is this leading to? I beg you to remember the two most important commandments given to us by Christ Himself:

“And he answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27. See also Matthew 22:36-40 and Mark 12:28-31)

Therefore, anyone who puts any sin above God, whatever that sin is, is in violation of what Christ says are the most important two laws. We have to cast aside our sin for the God we claim to love just as we have to do for our neighbors.

This explicitly tells us we do in fact have to change for those we love. If we refuse to change, we are in fact, showing how little we love them. How contrary to popular philosophy and self-help books that statement is! 

But don’t we do that? Don’t we break up with the boyfriend or girlfriend who wont’ give up smoking or some other undesirable habit? Don’t we leave the relationship where the person is selfish? 

So if we on Earth know to turn away those who refuse to love us enough to turn from the wrong they do, so don’t we also realize Christ will do to us?

And now for those who feel this truth is a little on the “unloving” side. All the cases I used above were clearly things anyone would accept as reasonable. But what about that guy who never, ever, puts the lid to the toilet down. What about that wife who works a bit more than you’d like and doesn’t have time to help around the house or even just offer time for affection that you’d like?

Well, this is where forgiveness and Christ’s infinite love comes into play. We mortals have all sorts of deal breakers. Think about this. We have several (sometimes difficult to understand and/or explain) things we will immediately end a relationship over. We want to do that, but imagine a God who would be OK with anything? How does that even make sense?

However, where we would summarily end any relationship over any number of deal breakers, God, through Christ, is much better than all of us. You see, Christ is forgiving. For those who repent and turn away, there is no deal breaker. There’s no crime so great one can commit that Christ’s blood can’t wash away. This, is how glorious he is. And in that grace and mercy, Christ understands us. He advocates for us. (1 John 2:1)

That means that murderer is indeed forgiven, even if you don’t like it. That means anyone can be forgiven, if he but accepts Christ into his heart and repents of his sins. He did this for a thief on a cross who minutes before was ridiculing Christ. (Luke 23:43)

Sin is sin. There is not greater or lesser sin you could choose to live in and do continually that Christ, in his perfect, righteous glory as king of kings, would ever accept.

However; Sin is sin. There is no sin Christ’s blood can’t wash way. We may stumble, but Christ knows our hearts. He knows our desire to change and be more like Him. Those who accept Him and obey Him are among his elect. Those who strive to live as He lives and do as He does will be welcomed.

Consider this as you look at your life and the sins you carry. I’m not beyond this scrutiny. I look at the sin in my life and it horrifies me. Some sins fell away, but it seems like sin is some sort of hydra, popping up with two heads more each time I turn from one sin. The goal is the keep growing. The goal is to aspire and live to be more like Christ. Then His grace and mercy will be with you, and nothing will take you from God’s hands when you are His. (Romans 8:39)

For our panel: How does one turn from sin? What does it mean if I repent of a sin (whatever it is) and then succumb to it? Is backsliding a real thing? Does being a Christian mean being perfect?

Musings On Christianity 18

Musings On Christianity 18

Should We Fear Death?

I’m pretty sensitive to my body and what it tells me. When I don’t feel right, I sometimes wonder, “Is this it?” In my past, I looked at death with a lot of fear.

That doesn’t mean I look forward to death, though I confess I have done that too in my life.

What happened though was that I was afraid of death because I didn’t understand how this life works. This existence isn’t the reward. If it’s anything, I’d say it’s a trial.

I’ve been concerned about what would happen to my family or friends. I’ve worried about all the things I’d like to do.

All of those thoughts weren’t fixed on the correct point.

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)

I’m not actually sure how long I could ponder what that one verse means, but I start with the realization that my days are numbered. God knows the exact moment I’m going to die. That means there’s nothing I can do or say to extend those days by a moment.

“And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:27)

There’s something strangely comforting about knowing that I’m going to die exactly when I’m supposed to. I’m not sure this is as comforting to others as it is to me, but allow me to explain my reasoning.

If my death is an event written in the book of life before the very world was formed, then it’ll come exactly when it’s supposed to. This, to me, means that I can focus not on when I’m going to die, but more or how I’m going to live. Instead of exercising so I don’t get sick and die, I can exercise because it will make the quality of my numbered days better. Instead of living in fear of that inevitable day (and even people who don’t believe in God know they’re going to die), I can live making the most of the days I have.

Does this mean “live every day to its fullest?” Well, yes, but not in the way some think. I still don’t needlessly put my life at risk. Nor do I throw my money around because I might die tomorrow.  Instead, I can see today as the gift it is.

This can be equally convicting. I only have so much time in my life. I can’t waste it on non-fruitful pursuits. Look, I love playing video games. It actually gives me time with my brother on weekends. However, if I had to choose between playing one more game or hugging my son one more time, I’d of course want that hug.

Some people with the mindset of living their lives to their fullest sadden me because they’re avoiding the very thing that can do that. To each his own. I mean that. But I had a life where I had money. I could go where I want and do what I want. I could have adventures and party till all hours of the morning. I even did that a few times.

I was miserable. Now, I don’t think that “people need romantic love.” That’s nice. I’m glad I have that. But I was more alone than that. I was fixated on promotions and money and status. That objectified people. Not intentionally, but it was the same result.  I had all the objects a person could really want. Now, having people I love around me is better.

I’m not a social butterfly. I will never be a person who wants to go to a social gathering. However, intimate, meaningful time with people I love has an even larger importance to me than I thought possible.

Even more so, knowing my days are numbered and the days of my loved ones are equally so, means I only have so many chances to fellowship with them or evangelize to them. Every moment around people is an opportunity to love them in all the best ways.

There is another comfort though. Those who are saved know that though they may die, they will yet live again. Yes, my days on this Earth are numbered, but those days aren’t counting down to the end; they’re counting down the days to perfection, to bliss, and to everlasting joy.

As much as I enjoy this world, the next will be indescribably better. I want tomorrow to have all the people I love and all the gracious gifts I have. I would even appreciate more. However, I want to make sure that I appreciate what I have. I want to treat what God has given me with the respect and care these gracious gifts are.   

I don’t long for death, but I think fear is a strong word. It gives me motivation to do more, not for the worthless gain that left me with tons of possession and no love, but for the God I serve and the people I love so much.

So I hope not to fear death, but make the most of the time I have. I hope not to fear a mortal end, but work to ensure the life that comes next is even more full. This is the mindset I’ve currently formed as I grow in Christ.

For our panel: How should Christians see death? How does one balance the inevitability of death with the comfort of eternity? What is the Christian way to live life to the fullest? Does a Christian life mean an absence of any Earthly pleasures or blessings?

Musings on Christianity 17

Musings on Christianity 17

What Is The Good News?

Have you heard the good news? If you’re like me someone has approached you and asked you that question. Maybe you rolled your eyes and said you weren’t interested (like I did). Maybe you said that you have, and it’s great (like I did). Maybe you said no (like I did) and got several different versions of that news (like I did). Maybe if you were that last person, that made you wonder what the good news really was.

I’m quite sure that the few people who gave me their good news truly believed it was the good news. I’m sure one of them gave me the actual good news, but the fact that I received different news led me to doubt any of them were right.

Naturally, if you’re reading this, you may doubt that I know the answer to this question. For the record, I don’t know anything. This has nothing to do with my knowledge and my wisdom. Those are terrible references. This good news comes not from me, but from the Word of God.

Here’s a quick outline:

1) Man was dead in sin (Genesis 3).

2) The price of sin had to be paid. That price is blood, and the sacrifice must be of one who is without blemish (Deuteronomy).

3) Jesus Christ came from Heaven to Earth and died to pay that price (Matthew 27, Mark 15, Luke 23, and John 19).

4) Christ was raised from the dead, which broke the bonds of death and gave victory and justification for those who believe in Him (Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20).

A brief tangent:

Notice how the good news takes us from the beginning of the Bible to the end. The Bible is the story of God and his work in the lives of humanity. To truly understand that work and understand God, one must read the whole thing.

That seems silly to have to say. If there was a movie out there one wanted to talk about, he’d watch the whole movie. If one wanted to talk about a book, they would see fit to read the book. Christianity (perhaps religion as a whole) is the only thing people seem to feel completely at liberty to discuss without actually understanding what it is. Why? I don’t have the answer. I have theories, but I honestly would like readers to look in themselves and ask, why am I so resistant to read this book before discussing it.

Now, there are those who say, “I’m not interested in reading it, and I don’t want to discuss it.”  As a mortal, rational thinker, I couldn’t really argue with you. If you aren’t interested, you aren’t. However, for those of you who find yourself saying, “Well I think this is who God is,” or, “To me, God is …,” I humbly request you spend some time with his own testimony about Himself. 

Tangent over.

I’ve actually already covered the first item on the list in great detail in Chapter 12. To review, a person may want to show they’re comparatively better than another mortal man, but compared to a perfect and Holy God, we fall short. We are not perfect. We have sinned. Our sin condemns us.

That’s not very good news. On its own, no. However, most of the best things happen in bad situations. To reword that, we feel the most joy when a situation turns out right when it looks like its could end at its worst. The good news starts with the fact that we needed salvation.

The second item on the list simply informs us of the price that must be paid to redeem one from sin. If none of us are perfect, none of us is able to pay the price. I discussed this in  Chapter 12 as well. The price had to be Christ. He had to endure all the pain and suffering we deserved in order for us to be redeemed.

That leads us to the good part of the good news. He did. Christ willingly came. God, because of his abounding love for us, sent His Son down to Earth to pay the price for our sins so that we could be saved. He died, and the price has been paid, once for all.

However, death, while the payment for sin, still isn’t quite as great as it could be. I mean, redemption from sin is the most important thing we could ever have, but like an old TV informercial, “Wait! There’s more!”

The resurrection of Christ is the defeat of death. This is how we can have faith that we will have perfect, bodily resurrection if we are indeed in Christ. His resurrection broke the bonds of death and guarantee our eternity when Christ returns. Again, our redemption is by grace and is wonderful in and of itself, but to be redeemed and guaranteed eternal life? That’s good news.

So why does the good news have to include these four elements? There are a few answers to this.

First, we have to understand how much we need Christ. According to a 2003 poll conducted by the Barna Research Group in Oxnard, California, two-thirds of Americans believe they will go to Heaven, implying they believe in such a place. Of that number, which, according to the survey holds from the previous decade, half of them believe they will go to Heaven because they can earn it by good deeds. 

This is why I needed Chapter 12. Without a clear understanding of why we needed salvation, we can’t possibly appreciate Christ’s glorious gift.

Second, these four things together complete the news. This is something I do know. I teach it for a living. Any news story has four essential elements: The who, the what, the when and the where. The why and how give us context. So any time we can get all six elements, we can be assured the audience has complete understanding.

If this were a story one of my students had to write, the good news would read something like: “Jesus Christ died on the cross in the First Century A.D. in Jerusalem to pay the price for the sins of humanity and was raised three days later for humanity’s justification.”

Where is the how element? I usually tell students to save that for what’s called the bridge of a news story: “Christ, the only perfect, blameless human in all of existence, was the only person able to pay for the sins of humanity as God’s own perfect passover lamb.”

This is basic news principles used to explain what the good news and why one needs it in its entirety to understand it.

The last reason the good news has to include these elements is that it gives us our hope and the assurance that our hope is possible. We hope in eternal life. To simply say that Christ was raised from the dead is cool, but I can name at least two people who never actually died (Elijah and Enoch). I can name another few who were raised from the dead (Jairus’ daughter and Lazarus).  There are more, but I can actually name those two. Jesus was also raised. However, only Christ died and lived again. He did so and never died a second time (Lazarus the Jairus’ daughter did).

This is significant because if Christ could die for all of our sins, then his resurrection is also ours if we believe in Him. Think about it. As our substitutionary sacrifice, he paid the price we couldn’t pay. So His resurrection, His eternal life, can also be ours.

To forget about Christ makes the equation invalid. Without Him, we don’t have the proper payment for our sin. Without Him, we only have at best a second batch of years until we die again.

The problem comes when people know Heaven exists, but they want to find other ways to get there. Here is where everything comes to simple binary logic. A person either believes they are perfect and they can impress a perfect and holy god with some perfunctory acts of service, or a person realizes they are not perfect and they can’t do a darn thing to impress a perfect and holy god.

We can dress that binary math up any way we want, but it all comes down to one of those thoughts. I’m obviously of the latter mindset. This book is my attempt at a reasonable way to express that. When I break it down to those two, it can seem cold, but sometimes people need to be confronted with the choice they’re making. For those who don’t believe in a Heaven, there’s no real point in debating how to get there.  So this chapter provides a foundational look at the doctrine of salvation.

Research data pulled from this article.

For our panel: If we decide to accept the good news, how do we move forward? In your experience, what causes people to resist accepting the good news? How should one respond to hearing other interpretations of that good news? Why are those other interpretations dangerous?