Tag Archives: Jesus

The Wrath of God

God may still pour out his wrath on people who have rejected his Son and persist in doing evil.

Many times our first impulse is to think that God is punishing people by sending natural disasters such as tornado, hurricane or earthquake. It is never that simple. It was once the province of Christians to speak of God punishing or judging groups of people for their sin, but now we have celebrity prophets. The latest to offer an opinion is Jennifer Lawrence, who believes that hurricanes are hitting southern states because Mother Nature is angry with Trump voters. Apparently Ms. Lawrence is a priestess of the Great Mother.

There are many other reasons why disasters occur, and the primary purpose is to bring people to the point of hope in God and his promise of heaven. God may also use trouble to correct his people, and test our faith.

However, we cannot dismiss the possibility that God may still punish people by pouring out his wrath. Salvation is first and foremost salvation from God’s wrath. What happens when people continue to reject God’s solution for sin? What happens when they persist in doing evil? What happens when they call evil good and good evil? We see all of this happening in the USA today. Are we foolish enough to believe that the Judge of all humankind will fail to act? This is the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their perverse sexual evil. This is the God whose “soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5). This is the Righteous Judge who clearly states that he feels indignation every day because of violence and evil (Psalm 7:11). This is the God who inspired the Apostle Paul to write in his letter to the Romans:
“The wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (1:18, NRSV).
The wrath of God IS revealed.

Jesus Christ died on the cross to turn away God’s wrath from all who will believe. Since Christ’s resurrection we have been in an age of grace. That is why God’s wrath is not yet poured out in full strength on all evil and injustice. However, there are times when God acts. We must not automatically make the assumption, the oversimplified assumption, that God is angry with a community because they face a disastrous storm. However, we cannot automatically dismiss the possibility either. God is sovereign and just. He should be feared. The biggest problem today is that people do not fear God.

“a time to plant and a time to uproot what was planted…” (Ecc. 3:2)

Let’s look at the case of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It would be easy to assume that the debauchery of the Big Easy provoked God to pour out his wrath on the city. I am no prophet and am unwilling to state that that was God’s primary purpose for Katrina. However, neither am I willing to dismiss the possibility. I will say that many who were in extreme poverty in New Orleans were driven out of the city and have settled other places such as Garland Texas, where I live. Many of these folks were given new lives and fresh starts as the result of Katrina. Perhaps most would rather the storm never happened. It is likely many would have preferred staying in their city to being forcibly uprooted. God had a plan. Perhaps the Sovereign Lord disciplined the city. If so, did anybody learn? Have they turned away from sin and evil. Where is the fear of God?

God may also send or allow disaster or tragedy to bring us to our knees to repent and seek him. Jesus addressed this very issue, and it is recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. (Luke 13:1-5).

So, as America faces the second catastrophic hurricane within a week, as major wildfires burn in four western states, do people recognize a need to repent? I believe Jesus would say, “Do you think the people of Houston are worse sinners than other Americans? Do you think the residents of Montana are worse sinners than other Americans? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, this may happen to you.

The most powerful earthquake ever to hit Mexico struck a few days ago, killing 64 people. Do you think the people of Mexico, or the city of Juchitan in Oaxaca state, where 36 died and a third of the homes collapsed, are worse sinners than people in North America, or other nations in Central or South America? To this Jesus might well say, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

You and I live in a dark, dangerous, cursed world. Certainly we see the beauty and order of its origin. The weather in north Texas is beautiful today, Fall is coming, the air is cooler. A couple of weeks ago we saw the perfection of God’s original creation via the solar eclipse. However, two years ago a tornado swept through Garland and Rowlett, destroying hundreds of homes and taking half a dozen lives We’ve been hit with destructive hail and floods in recent years. Did we learn what God was trying to teach us? Have we had a change of heart and mind as a result of our own calamity?

Do you realize that although God’s original creation is perfect, this is a fallen world, which lies under God’s curse. Are you still seeking fulfillment here? Do you still love this world? “Do not love the world or the things in it! If you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you!” (1 John 2:15, cf. James 4:4) We need to be saved, my friends. We need to become part of the new creation and the coming kingdom of God. And we need to live our lives as exiles and strangers here on earth (1 Peter 2:11). This old creation longs to be set free with the children of God.

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, no willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:19-22, ESV)

Are you one of God’s children? Have you received the Lord Jesus?
“To as many as received him, those who believed in his name, he gave the right to be children of God” (John 1:12). One day there will come a great renewal of the earth and sky, and we who have been made new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), will live forever the presence of God in his new creation. This isn’t heaven, friends, but heaven is coming!

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, the suffering here is as close to hell as you’ll ever get. If you don’t believe, the beauty here is as close to heaven as you’ll ever get.

What about our nation? Is God saying something to America right now? I believe the Lord has always protected this great nation, because it was founded on faith in Christ. It has always been imperfect, but God has kept us safe because of the faith of his people. Today, America has moved further and further from her founding principles, fewer and fewer people have genuine faith in Jesus. God briefly lifted his hand of protection from America on September 11th, 2001, and evil came rushing in. Do we realize how often God turns evil away from our nation? Do we understand how blessed we’ve been? How often does God intervene and keep disaster, tragedy and evil from befalling us?
America, America!
God shed his grace on thee!
Why have you turned your back on your God? Get ready for more disasters, more tragedies, more evil.

What must believers do? We must pray. We must believe in a good, loving and just God, who is angry with wickedness, violence and injustice every day. We must all repent. Everybody needs to be saved! In an age of grace God’s goal is always for all people to turn to Jesus Christ. especially when he chooses to allow or send calamity upon a community,
“… not wishing for any to perish but that all come to repentance”
(2 Peter 3:9).
“There is therefore no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

To escape God’s wrath of God, fear Him, repent of your sins, run to our good and loving Father, receive Jesus Christ into your heart now. Put your hope in God who promises that you will never be separated from his love, no matter what (Romans 8:28-39).

Pray for our nation to repent, and hide yourself in Christ until the wrath of God passes by.

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer” (Isaiah 26:20-21).

Are Christians Mean?

In reality people are people, some are mean, some are nice. Most of us have good days and bad days, and that affects how we treat others. However, people have higher expectations for Christians, as they should. To be a Christian means I follow Jesus, and that is what sets the expectation of others.

Was Jesus always nice? Not really. I know, I know, we all believe in “gentle Jesus, meek and mild,” but Jesus was pretty harsh sometimes. Most of us can call to mind the story of Jesus driving the money-changers out of the temple. That’s a good example of who and what made Jesus angry. Jesus had little tolerance for the self-righteous Pharisees of his day, and the Lord was often upset over the unbelief coming from people who would claim to belong to God.

Jesus was gentle, however, if you understand the term. It doesn’t simply mean “nice,” nor does it imply Jesus was soft concerning injustice and evil. It means he was genuinely understanding of those who were enslaved to sin, and was willing to love them and spend time to teach them the truth. The Pharisees just could not understand why Jesus “ate with tax-collectors and sinners.” Yet Jesus never advocated for excessive or fraudulent collection of taxes, nor did he participate  in or promote sinful lifestyles. Jesus taught those who would listen, and many believed in him and changed their minds and their lifestyles as a result.

Sometimes Jesus’ followers weren’t very nice. On one occasion two of his disciples, called the Brothers Thunder, (James and John were known by this name), wanted to bring fire down from heaven to consume their Lord’s opponents (cf. Luke 9:54). Jesus scolded them for this. “You don’t know what kind of spirit you are of.” When parents tried to bring their children to Jesus, so the Lord could bless the little ones, these same disciples tried to keep them away. Jesus said, “Don’t hinder them from coming to me, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).

The Holy Spirit is gentle, and Christians who are full of the Spirit will be too. He is also called “the Spirit of Truth,” and he guides Christians into the truth  (John 16:13). As a result we will speak the truth in love when under the Holy Spirit’s influence (Ephesians 4:15). Not everyone responds favorably when they are told the truth, even when that is done in love. The perception by those who hear what they don’t believe or want to hear may be to accuse the messenger of being unkind.

Christians may be genuinely mean, though. In fact, some of the most difficult, self-righteous, unpleasant people with whom I’ve had to deal over the years were in church most every Sunday. This should not be true of those who claim the name of Jesus. The root problem behind this unkindness is self, or self-centeredness. I want things to go my way, and when they don’t I will mistreat you.

In Christ, though, I am a new creation with a new nature, which is focused on Christ, not self. It is not difficult to be unselfish when I simply turn my mind’s eye on Jesus, and allow him to fill me with the Holy Spirit.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”   The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Php 2:5–8.

I want to challenge my fellow Christians: Be kind! Pay attention to others. Smile at people. Love each other and treat everyone with respect, especially those with whom you disagree. Courtesy is a Christian virtue. Hold doors open for people. Give up your seat on public transportaion or at church, or scoot over so others can sit down easily. Give up the prime parking spot instead of cursing and fighting for it. Don’t cut people off  or flip people off because they aren’t driving the way you want. Refuse to gossip or speak unkindly about anyone. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” And that includes social media! Pray for people you’re angry with, don’t post hateful things about them. Forgive those who’ve done you wrong; don’t hold grudges. Refuse the play the judge. Take the log out of your own eye before you go hunting for sawdust in someone else’s. Walk around in other people’s shoes for awhile before you snap to a judgment about who they are and why they’re doing what you don’t approve of.

“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Eph 4:32–5:2.

Love, Forgiveness, Justice, Wrath

“God is love” (1 Jn. 4:9).
Love is the determination to act for the best interest of the beloved. (CS Lewis)
What is in a person’s best interest: not merely what gives the beloved pleasure, not merely what they want, but what is best for them? Love is meaningless unless God knows and is committed to do what is just and right for human beings, and for each individual person.

Therefore, in order for God to be love, he must also be just and right.
Thankfully, the Scriptures affirm on more than one occasion that the foundation of God’s throne is righteousness and justice (Ps. 89:14 & 97:2). This means justice, not power, is the basis for God’s authority.
Forgiveness may be considered an act of love, assuming there is justice. Apart from justice and a standard of right and wrong, there is nothing to forgive. Further, in order for forgiveness to be a genuine act of love, there must be an appeal to God who will make all things, including the offender, right.
Therefore, we look forward to Judgment Day: some with trepidation, others with longing. The world is not just or right, but the God of justice will make everything right on that fateful Day (see Heb. 9:27 & 1 Cor. 5:10 among several passages).
Wrath is God’s response to injustice and unrighteousness. It is apropos for a personal Creator who loves deeply to be angry when injustice and evil is perpetrated against himself, his creation and those made in his image. This is not a temper tantrum, and it is not a merely emotional reaction to being offended. God’s wrath is a personal response of justice toward evil, injustice and unrighteousness. It is measured and pure. It is destructive where reconciliation and restoration are rejected, and when his love is scorned in favor of hatred or willful disbelief and disregard of his authority, plan, and design.
Forgiveness comes at a price: propitiation.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
Propitiation means the God of love made a way for justice to be satisfied, sin expiated, and for his wrath to be turned aside. That way is Christ, who died on the cross for us and for our sins (Rom. 4:25, 5:8, 1 Cor. 15:3), and who rose to conquer death forever (1 Cor. 15:26, 54-55, Heb. 2:14-15).
Therefore, every Christian who understands what it means to be saved will affirm the words of the scorned hymn Christ Alone, which state:
In Christ alone, who took on flesh
Fullness of God in helpless babe
This gift of love and righteousness
Scorned by the ones He came to save
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died
The wrath of God was satisfied
For every sin on Him was laid
Here in the death of Christ I live, I live

And I write:

So, we go outside the city,
Where our Savior was led
To sanctify us with his blood,
And we bear the scorn
From civil and vulgar alike,
For in Christ alone we find salvation.

Lent & Fasting

Today is Fat Tuesday. That’s the day before Lent starts. The season of Lent is a time many Christians choose to fast. In 2017 Lent begins on Wednesday, March 1st (Ash Wednesday) and extends until Easter Sunday, which is April 16th this year.

 The following are some reasons for fasting, and not just for Lent. Fasting may be beneficial at any time.

1. DEDICATION. Fast as an Act of Dedication-  After his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness and fasted for 40 days. He did this as preparation for entering into his ministry. Perhaps fasting gave him clarity as he intensely focused on the Father. This provided confirmation that He was the Son of God who had come to save the world. You may fast as an act of dedication to the Lord, and to seek confirmation about his calling in your life.

2. DISCIPLINE. Fast as an Exercise of Discipline-  Learn to say no to “me.” All of the temptations were for Jesus to act expediently and egotistically. If Jesus had given in it would not have been an exercise of faith, but, rather, the wildly alternating swings between self-doubt and presumption. Our consumer culture is about self-indulgence, not self-discipline. It is about pursuing pleasure and satisfying desire. This is why we’re overweight and in debt. It is important to set limits for our time, money, eating and drinking. Lent is a good time to discipline yourself in one or more of these areas.

3. DEPENDENCE. Fast as an Affirmation of Dependence upon God-  Learn to rely on the power of God. Jesus’ first statement in response to Satan’s temptation demonstrates this. “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Deuteronomy 8:3 as quoted in Matthew 4:4, also John 4:34). When I give up something I truly want, I will need God’s help to keep my commitment. The third affirmation of the AA 12 Steps recognizes our need to do this. “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God…” This is essential if you’re to overcome a particularly stubborn habit or addiction.

4. DETERMINATION. Fast to Establish Determination-  Believing is not a feeling. It is an act of the will. Believing genuinely means I am willing to do something about it. Additionally, faith must endure or it’s worthless. Learn to have a tenacious and unshakeable faith. Jesus’ disciples encountered a boy whom they could not help. When Jesus cast out the spirit that afflicted the child, his disciples asked him why they were powerless. Jesus replied, “This kind can only come out by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29, Matthew 17:21). Not everything happens instantly. In fact, most issues require determination and tenacity to overcome. Remember, although faith is an act of the will, it is not about willpower. It is about trust. I must be determined to continue to trust God, no matter the circumstances.

5. DESPERATION.  Fast as an Act of Desperation-  We must come to an end of ourselves if I want to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit. I must realize how truly sinful I am, and how depraved I will become without God’s help. I’ve got to take sin seriously. Cry out to God in repentance (Joel & Israel, Jonah and Ninevah). “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” (Joel 2:12 NIV). I need to hear from God at all costs (Daniel 10 & 21 days of prayer, David seeking the healing of his 1st child by Bathsheba).

6. DETOXIFICATION. Fast as a means of Detoxification- Because of constant exposure to an impure environment your body collects all sorts of toxic and destructive substances. Consider Daniel and his friends who would not eat the meat and rich food offered them by their Babylonian overlords. Instead they ate only vegetables and drank only water. They were healthier as the result. A vegan or even vegetarian diet that allows only organic foods can be a healthy way to rid your body of toxins. When you abstain from food altogether, drinking only water, especially for longer periods, the digestive system and liver and kidneys can be cleansed of accumulated poison. The same applies to your mind. When you remove TV, movies, video games, godless music, social media, you give your mind the opportunity to rest. Replace these things with worship and saturation in Scripture.

7. DIET. Fast regularly to Diet- Limiting the amount of food you eat is a means of controlling calorie intake. Most of us eat too much. We take in more calories than we burn off, so we gain unneeded fat. Periodic fasting if done in moderation and balanced with a healthy, calorie controlled diet, is an effective tool in losing fat and maintaining a lean body.

Whatever you decide to do, remember the following principles.

  • Choose something that will really require discipline to give up.
  • Be consistent. Discipline requires consistency to take hold and be effective.
  • Giving up what you shouldn’t be doing to begin with is not fasting, it’s obedience.
  • If you make a commitment to God, keep it. Better not to vow than to vow and not keep it.
  • It is not a good idea to make promises to God, better to rely on his promises for you. So, you aren’t fasting to get God to do something for you. Trust him to help you through.

The Merge

Church splits are common. However, I only know of only one church that reunited after dividing, and I was part of it. “The Merge” of First Baptist Church, The Colony was official 28 years ago today.

In January of 1988 I began the Master of Divinity program at Southwestern Seminary in Fort Worth. I filed my resume’ in the placement office with the hopes of serving in a church during my seminary career. By the end of the semester I received a call from the newly appointed pastor of First Baptist Church, The Colony. Pastor WB had seen my resume’,  and, after an interview, wanted me to be their Youth Minister. He invited me to introduce myself to the congregation during a Sunday morning worship service.

On the drive from Ft. Worth to The Colony that Sunday morning I took a wrong turn and ended up passing by the old Texas Stadium in Irving. First time I’d seen the fabled home of the Dallas Cowboys in person. As I walked up to the church I encountered two middle school boys sitting on the monkey bars in the children’s playground. They would be part of the small youth group I led beginning in the summer. Our first official activity was to attend the Youth Evangelism Conference at Reunion Arena in downtown Dallas.

Every weekend I commuted from Ft. Worth to The Colony and built a Saturday-Sunday youth program. Over the next six months our group doubled in size, from a dozen members to a high attendance of 26. I really enjoyed working with those kids.

At that time The Colony had around 20,000 residents, many of whom were younger families, so you’d probably expect the First Baptist Church to have more teenagers. In fact, you’d anticipate more members. Our auditorium seated 200 and it was never filled on Sunday mornings. You see, something had happened to this church before I arrived.

When Pastor WB first interviewed me he mentioned that the church had exprienced a split. A large group had left First Baptist and formed a new church called Calvary Heights, which met at the local high school. They called the former youth minster of FBC to be their pastor. The old pastor of First Baptist had evidently been the source of the contention that resulted in the split, and had subsequently resigned. First Baptist had called WB to be their pastor only a few months before he brought me in as their new youth minister.

So, the church had split over a disagreement concerning their former pastor. I was leary about this when I interviewed, but once I met the youth it didn’t matter. Several months into my tenure at First Baptist talk of a merger began. Each church appointed three members of a committee, which met for several months to discuss the possibility. By the end of the year, the committee had a recommendation: Merge! Wow, I was amazed at this. However, the pastor that hired me was not so enthusiastic. In fact, WB wholeheartedly opposed the merger.

You see, the committee’s recommendation was for the 27 year old pastor of Calvary Heights to be the senior pastor of a re-formed First Baptist Church, and for 60-something WB to be the associate pastor. I would be the youth minister. I was in favor of the merger. However, I had been hired by, and called by the church to, serve under WB, and he was opposed.  During my brief time in ministry training I’d been taught that staff at a church are called to serve under the pastor. That means submit to his authority. However, I was still a member of the congregation of First Baptist Church, and the church would make the decsion here. What should I do?

I remember the meeting I had with WB to discuss the issue. He was angry with me. He accused me of undermining his authority because of my support for the merger. In fact, at one point he began to yell, then lunged at me over his desk. It was not a very Christlike display of character. However, it helped me decide what I must do.

A business meeting where the congregation would vote on the merger was scheduled for a Sunday night in December. I knew what I must do. At the appropriate time in the meeting, before the merger vote, I stood up and read my letter of resignation. Then I walked out the back door, expecting never to return to First Baptist Church, The Colony. I met with a couple of my students at the McDonald’s across the street to say goodbye. I drove back to Fort Worth that night sad and shaken.

Now, that’s not the end of the story, or I wouldn’t be writing this today. But perhaps I should explain why I resigned rather than remain and vote for the merger. My primary responsibility if I am not the pastor is to serve the church under the pastor’s authority. If I cannot support the pastor, I do not oppose him or try to undermine him, I simply seek another place of service. That’s why I resigned.

On Monday morning I received a call from a congregational leader, perhaps one of the deacons (I don’t recall), informing me that my resignation had not been accepted. Ok, what, how could they refuse my resignation? This leader continued: WB had quit, stormed out the back door (and broke the glass on his way out!), the congregation had voted to merge, call the pastor of Calvary Heights, as pastor and me as youth minister. My objection to supporting the unstable and unChristlike WB was eliminated when he quit. I chose to serve the newly merged congregation under the new pastor, Bill Wilks. I would serve alongside two wonderful men: Morris Seay, education minister, and Ralph Baxter, music minister. It was like being called to a new church, except I got to keep the youth I’d worked with over the previous months.

The first official day of the merger was Monday, January 9, 1989. I remember the date distinctly because it was listed on so many records as the date people had joined the First Baptist Church. I had nine youth in attendance the last Sunday before the merger. On the first Sunday after the church reunited we had 90 youth!

There is so much angry energy expended when we disagree with one another. Divorce, political division, church splits and many other examples abound. It’s like the power of an atomic bomb, the destructive power of which was unleashed by the USA at Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. Those bombs worked by splitting atoms. However, there is exponentially more energy released when atoms unite in nuclear fusion. That is, when atoms unite.

When the church unites to do God’s will, His power is released, and people are saved, delivered and healed. Our families, our churches and our nation need to come together in the name of Jesus. I believe that will only happen when we who claim to be Christians actually follow Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill us so that we have “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

“… walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ephesians 4:2–6.

 

The Reason for Jesus

Maybe you’ve heard someone say, “Jesus is the reason for the season,” and he really is. Jesus is the reason for Christmas. But do you know the reason for Jesus? I mean, do you know why Jesus came to earth to be born?

Nobody knows the exact day that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but we do know that a miracle happened over 2,000 years ago when God chose Mary to be the Mother of His One and Only Son. December 25th was chosen as the date to celebrate his birthday long ago.

Would it surprise you to know that Jesus existed before he was born? That’s not true of you or me. Every human being, except Jesus Christ, came into existence inside their mother. But Jesus has always been the Son of God. His existence didn’t begin at his birth. When baby Jesus was laid in the manger, he opened his eyes and looked out upon the world for the first time as a human being. Before that, the Son of God was with his Father in heaven. Jesus came to earth to become one of us, lived a perfect life like none of us, and then he died on the cross and rose from the grave for all of us. God showed his love by sending his one and only Son.

You see, Jesus knows what you and I are going through down here because he experienced human life: happiness, sadness, weakness, weariness, pain, and finally death. He knows what it feels like to be a human being, and he cares about all of us.

“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood… it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.”
Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013), Hebrews 2:14a, 17–18.

Jesus became a human being so that he could take away our sins. Everybody does bad things, and we call those bad things sins. Every time we do wrong we make God unhappy. Whenever you sin, you hurt God, you hurt yourself, and you hurt other people. When Jesus died on the cross, he showed us just how much it hurts when we sin.

If we do wrong we also have to pay for it. If you steal something, then you have to give it back. If you break something, then you have to pay for it. That’s the right thing to do. We also deserve to be punished when we do wrong. If you steal you could go to jail for it. When Jesus died on the cross, he was punished for our sins. But Jesus never sinned! He never told a lie, never stole, never disrespected his parents, never cursed at anyone, or hit anyone. From the time he was born in the manger until the time he died on the cross, Jesus never sinned. That’s why he could take the punishment for all of our sins.
“Christ had no sin, but God made him become sin so that in Christ we could become right with God.”
The Everyday Bible: New Century Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2005), 2 Corinthians 5:21.

So, that’s why Jesus was born: to show us how much God loves us, and to pay the penalty for our sins. You and I sin, don’t we? We really do need Jesus. We need him to take away our sins and to help us to live better lives. Jesus wants us to live well. That’s one of the reasons our church is called Lifewell. He also wants all of us to go to heaven to be with him some day.

Jesus came back to life after he died for our sins, and showed himself to his family, friends and followers. Then he went back up to heaven to be with His Father. He is alive and can never die again. That’s why we can pray to Jesus, and that’s how we can have eternal life in heaven. The Bible says, “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

You see, you are the reason for Jesus.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

Why don’t we pray right now and call out to Jesus. Let’s thank Him for being born and for dying on the cross.

Dear Jesus, we love you and we believe in you. You were born in a manger. You grew up, but never sinned. When you were a man you died on the cross for our sins. We believe you came back to life.

Now, you pray. Call on Jesus to save you and give you eternal life.

Jesus, I ask you to come into my heart, take away my sins. I love you and I want to live my life for you.  

Amen.

Radical Economy of Grace

Christ’s Radical Inversion of Social Values
General Comment on Luke 6:27-38

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  (Luke 6:27-36)

“You reap what you sow…”
“An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth..”
“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The Law of Karma in Eastern religion.
The above represent expressions of the natural law of reciprocity, which is the ruling principle for economic and social relationships in the natural world.

In his commentary on Luke Joel B. Green recognizes two types of reciprocity in societies. The first is “balanced reciprocity,” which is: “the direct exchange of goods of approximately equal value within a relatively narrow period of time” (Green, “The Gospel of Luke” from The New International Commentary series, p. 202). The second type Green calls “generalized reciprocity,” wherein: “the exchange is essentially one sided, altruistic, the giving of a gift without explicit stipulations for any reciprocation in kind” (ibid. p. 202).
The generalized type is always found among the members the nuclear family (parents and children), but in some cases and cultures it is seen among members of the extended family.
Jesus challenged the world system, commanding his disciples to extend generalized reciprocity beyond the trusted boundary of family into the hostile territory of our enemies. As Jesus’ disciples we are to love our enemies by doing good to them, praying for them and blessing them, even though they may curse us. This is no lofty, unattainable ideal, but Christ’s expectation for all Christians all of the time. This teaching of Jesus alone, if followed seriously, could radically transform every society in which it is practiced.

Jesus came to radically transform the economy of the world system. He did not merely teach his disciples, challenging them to live differently. Jesus came to earth to pay the massive debt owed by every person as the result of sin. “The wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23a). Jesus cancelled the sin debt owed by all people when he took it upon himself, then suffered humiliation, beating and the death of crucifixion. Jesus established a new economy based upon grace. That is the fundamental feature of the Gospel. When Jesus Christ paid all debts with His act of love on the cross, he provided an inexhaustible, super-fund of good merit from which every person may draw when they confess sin, repent and put faith in the Savior.

We are called to extend the grace and forgiveness we have received to everyone we meet.

How can we do this? Is Jesus calling us to be dishonored doormats? He is calling us to be like Himself. As the Roman soldiers drove the nails into His hands, Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Yet how will we have the courage to do this? Jesus said, “if someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes something from you do not demand it back” (from Luke 6:29-30). Are we to give over our possessions simply because immoral people demand it? Are we to give up our homes to the homeless? Are we to spend all of our valuable leisure time “going the second mile” for ungrateful people (see Matthew’s version of Jesus’ message, in 5:41)? Who will protect me? Who will take care of my needs? The Father will provide for and protect me.

We do these things as we abide in Christ. We ask for wisdom from His Holy Spirit before we act rashly, or refuse to act on the basis of self-protection and selfish motives. We are to act without concern for ourselves. Instead, we act: 1) in obedience to Christ’s command, 2) with discretion from the Holy Spirit, 3) in the true best interest of the other, whether friend or foe, family or outsider, honest or criminal.
This is God’s agape’ love. We can do it because we have a God and Father who promises to repay and care for us. In fact, when we act in obedience to Christ’s command and teaching, we are abiding in Him and thereby actively placing ourselves in the care and favor of His Almighty Father, and ours (cf. John 15:5-10, Psalm 41:1-3, Isaiah 58:1-10).

Relevant quotes from Green:

“Jesus rejects the life of obligation and debt (see Luke 4:18-19). In its place he first posits a generalized reciprocity, the sort of open-handed sharing characteristic of families, and urges that actions typical among kin be the norm for interaction with all persons. But he also envisions a form of ideal benefaction: give to others without expectation of return, and God will give to you…
That is, in redefining the world for his followers…Jesus posits as its foundation his image of God as merciful Father (Luke 6:36)….That is, Jesus declares such behavior demonstrates that one is a child of God” (ibid. p. 270 & 271)

“Love is expressed in doing good—that is, not by passivity in the face of opposition but in proactivity: doing good, blessing, praying and offering the second cheek and shirt along with coat” (ibid. p. 272).

Christ came to radically transform every relationship. Stating all of this is one thing, but I must learn to live it and do it every day, and so must you if you are a follower of Jesus Christ.

Seeking the One

When we are young the world sparkles with promise.
Life abounds within and surrounds us;
Death is unknown, or very far away.
There is little need to seek,
for everything comes to us:
life, love, hope, beauty and truth.
But lies find us too,
often clothed in selfish desire.
Then, in floods ugliness, violence, abuse,
and finally: death.
The world loses its allure.
What follows are days,
long and many, of malaise,
and petty pleasures to drive away
despair and existential dread.
Is it possible to recover our childlike wonder,
I wonder?
I may fool myself into believing so,
but the world is the same soul killing thing.
Everything ends in death.
Everything?
I do not like death;
and I don’t believe in it, either.
No, I know it exists.
In fact, it is inexorable:
for all but One.
Sane, good women and men
report that One died, was buried,
and returned to life.
They saw Him and I seek Him,
and I want His gift of eternal life.
No, not this mundane malaise,
but childlike life that never ends.
There are those who would call this
Delusion.
But my heart is not dead yet,
even if I am disillusioned.
It seems to me that the real delusion
is belief in this world,
or worse:
Believe in your self!
No wonder we seek to medicate,
anesthetize, deceive and distract.
Self is a pitiful little god,
impotent and in need of illusions to prop it up.
I have hope,
but not in this world.
I have faith,
but not in myself.
I continue to seek, but not for wealth,
power, pleasure or fame.
I seek the One who came from above,
and became a son of man,
sparkling with a glory that pierced the gloom.
This One was rejected by all the exalted believers
in Self.
He was crucified, buried and left for dead
outside their sanctimonious city.
Then He rose.
I reject death as my destiny.
I seek the One in order to overcome
the inevitable end of everyone.
I don’t want to be everyone.
So I press on to pursue the upward call
of the One.

Payback Is Foolish

I am not a pacifist. I am a follower of Jesus. The Lord taught his us to “turn the other cheek,” and that’s more than a metaphor for being nice. It represents a way of life. Love people, even your enemies, and trust God as your loving Father to protect and reward you. Trouble is, we don’t really follow Jesus. Oh, we say we do, but when it comes to the hard stuff we don’t really. And that’s why the world is unimpressed with Christians, so much so that they’re turning away in droves.

Let’s look at this idea of turning the other cheek and apply it to a recent sports incident, or series of incidents. So, apparently, there’s “bad blood” between the Texas Rangers baseball club, and the Toronto Blue Jays. Near as I can tell this is the result of an arrogant Toronto player named Jose Bautista who performed an infamous “bat flip” last season during a playoff game with the Rangers. Nobody was injured, well, not physically injured, but Rangers pride was evidently hurt by this example of arrogance. So, fast forward to the current season, seventh game of a seven game series. A Rangers pitcher (Matt Bush) appears to intentionally throw inside to hit Bautista with a 96 mph fastball. Presumably this is payback for Bautista’s unforgivable bat flip. Bautista didn’t wait until next season to deliver his version of payback; he slid hard into second, and past the bag in order to hit the Ranger second baseman Rougned Odor. Now payback is applied immediately upon the offense, and to the offender. Odor throws a right cross and nearly decks Bautista. Texas and Toronto benches clear, players run onto the field ready to fight (or stop the other guys from it). Foolishness. Turning the other cheek, at any point, would have stopped this series of events, which may well continue to play out at a later time.

If the Rangers had been more secure as a ball club last season they wouldn’t have allowed the arrogant celebration of one player to affect them so. If the Rangers leadership (players or coaching staff) was wise, they would have let this go and ensured that lesser players wouldn’t retaliate (such as the pitcher who hit Bautista, during only his second major league game). You want to get back at Toronto? Beat them fair and square.

Jesus’ teaching about turning the other cheek is not a rule against self-defense; it is teaching us not to seek revenge. A slap in the face is an insult. That was the case in Jesus’ day; it is still the case today. If someone hits me and then stops, I have no need to hit them back. They are seeking to offend me, to demean me, to hurt my pride. What if I have no pride to hurt? What if I am so secure in my identity that a slap in the face from someone cannot diminish me or alter my self-worth in any way? What if I have inner strength that keeps me from being concerned about the opinion of the crowd around me? THAT is what a genuine follower of Jesus possesses.

So, Jesus taught his followers to turn the other cheek. The Apostle Paul quoted from the Old Testament Law when he taught against seeking payback. “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Romans 12:19, see also Deuteronomy 32:25). The wisdom book of Proverbs speaks to this too. “Do not say, ‘I will repay evil’; wait for the LORD, and he will deliver you” (20:22). So, Christians have no business seeking payback.

Ah, but I can hear some of you say, “We can’t expect those Rangers players to live like Christians!” Perhaps not, but I CAN expect YOU who claim to be Christians to refrain from supporting or promoting revenge, violence and poor sportsmanship. My timeline on Facebook is FULL of pictures of Odor clocking Bautista (I took the pic with this blogpost from one of them). If you watched the video, Odor was ready to keep hitting him. DO YOU REALLY THINK THAT IS RIGHT? Is it self-defense? No, it is not. It is a man saying, “You hurt me, I’m going to hurt you back.” In fact, it is a man doing exactly what the Old Testament principle of eye for eye and tooth for tooth was intended to PREVENT: injustice. That’s the trouble with vengeance. It is rarely just and it never ends. In fact, it escalates. That’s how wars start. World War I began as a murderous offense, and escalated until 65 million people were dead. This may be multiplied further if the unfair treatment of the German people after World War I is taken into consideration as a motivation for their willingness to follow Hitler into World War II.

I believe we have the right, indeed the responsibility, to protect ourselves and our families from serious harm. If, instead of a “bat flip” a baseball player went after another in an attempt to do more than hurt his feelings, then I would uphold the other’s right to stop the offender. That doesn’t mean kill or destroy or seriously injure the offender. I taught martial arts for many years, and I always led my students to cause the minimal amount of damage necessary to the opponent to stop or escape a fight. I believe that is what Jesus would do. If you follow Jesus, I believe that is what you must do. However, I assure you, payback is not a Christian’s response to offense or harm.

Identity and Purpose: Male or Female

“He answered, ‘Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning “made them male and female,” and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?” (Jesus speaking in Matthew 19:4-5)

God made you either a male or a female. Your physical body demonstrates this clearly. If you are male, you have male body parts. If you are female, you have female body parts. Biologically, if you are male you have XY chromosomes. If you are female, you have an XX chromosmes.

This is a fallen world. As a result, deformities and abnormalities exist. Some studies indicate that there may be as many as one in 1,000 babies born with some type of genetic abnormality. This may or may not result in a physical deformity. In rare instances a person may be born with both male and female body parts. These are exceptions, not the norm. However, Jesus’ authoritative and inspired teaching about sexuality and gender apply, even to those who have to deal with such a challenge. 

Jesus’ teaching should be a comfort to anyone who must deal with gender confusion. You are either a male or a female. God has created you, in spite of any apparent contradictions that arise in a fallen world, apart from God’s immediate care and control. You don’t have to live apart from God’s care and control, though. Affirm that Jesus is Lord, and believe his teaching. Give your life to him. Recieve his Spirit and be transformed from the inside out.

Once in the care and control of God, once filled with his Holy Spirit, you will be convicted of the truth. Follow those convictions; they are Jesus Christ’s teaching being made real to you. You are a male, and Christ will work by his Spirit to make you a man of God. You are a female, and Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, will raise you up to be a woman of God.

Your identity is in Christ, not the world. The world is deceieved by the god it has chosen to believe in, and that god is a liar, a thief and a murderer (John 8:44, 10:10). “…the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). If you look to the world, if you listen to the prevailing voices in our culture today, you are going to be deluded into belieiving in a distorted image of personhood and humanity. If you identify with anyone or anything in the world, you will be kept from realizing your true identity.

You have been created in the image of God. In this fallen world, the divine image in you is damaged; it is broken. Jesus Christ is one with God, and he became a human being to restore the image of God in us. The natural tendency of every human being in this fallen world is to sin. Sin is falling short of God’s design and standard for human life. It is logical that apart from God we cannot be what he wants us to be. How would we know? Why would we care? Apart from God, I just make it up as I go. I choose my own identity, follow my own path. The problem with that approach to life is, human beings are created for the purpose of fellowship with, and service to, their loving Creator. Apart from that purpose, we are lost.

Jesus is “the image of the invisible God,” and “the exact representation of his (God’s) nature” (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). Jesus is the only one who can restore the broken image of God in you. He will not do that without your permission. You see, as a person made in God’s image, you have something that only persons possess, something that proves you are made in God’s image. You have free will. God will not violate your free will, not even to keep you from living a self-destructive life, not even to keep you from being ultimately destroyed in hell. Will you give Jesus that permission?

In fact, the reason the world is fallen, deceived and headed for destruction is due to human beings rejecting God’s care and control over them. God gave us the earth (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 115:16), we turned away from him and chose to believe the Father of Lies, who is also “the spirit now at work in the children of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2). That is how Satan became god of this world. Human beings believed him and gave up their rights to him. You don’t have to continue to believe his lies, however. 

The lie we are being told today sounds like good news: “You can be whatever you want to be.” The trouble with this truism is, it dooms those who believe it to failure. Why? Most adults, if they are honest with themselves, realize it just isn’t true. Perhaps as a youth you were told this and believed it. You wanted to be a professional athlete or singer or actor. You tried. You tried out. You were rejected. You aren’t talented enough, or attractive enough according to cultural standards. You were disillusioned. That’s not bad when you’ve been living an illusion, so long as you realize you can do many great things. However, many experience more than disappointment; they fall into depression.

Another result of believing this lie extends to sexuality and gender. “You can be whatever you want to be.” So, in some places children are now being taught to choose their gender. This in spite of the fact that the American College of Pediatricians has called the practice child abuse. “The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex… Facts – not ideology – determine reality.” Nonetheless, it is gaining support as the result of a militant group that fervently believes the lie, and is transforming our culture accordingly.

Then there’s this principle, which on the surface seems reasonable: “Be true to your feelings.” The problem with this principle is, feelings may decieve and be deceived. Feelings are dynamic, even erratic. Making decsions, especially life-altering ones, based upon feelings is, at best, unwise. I’ve heard children express a desire to be the gender opposite their own biological sex. I’ve heard the same child express a desire to be a dog. It is interesting that, biologically speaking, the regions of the brain that generate emotion develop very early, logic and reason come later. It is inherently childish and foolish to rely on feelings to determine reality, or identity. Better to discover the facts and follow the evidence.

Here’s a better principle for you to live by: “God made me for a purpose.” And here is something you can believe in and not be disappointed: “I can be whatever God created me to be.” God created you for a purpose. Spend your life discovering and accompishing that.

God designed and created the universe, and that includes our planet and our amazing bodies. Therefore, there is a way things are supposed to be. It is my responsibility to live according to God’s purpose and design for my body and life. The Bible contains God’s revelation, and the Spirit of God will enable me to understand it if I approach him with a willingness to learn and do his will. Everything I’ve written today comes from the Bible

You must realize that clinging to the values you’ve received and opinions you’ve derived from the world puts you at odds with the Lord. In fact, the Bible uses stronger language than that. “You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). I invite you to turn away from the world and toward God. Change your thinking; change your ways. Follow Jesus Christ and his teaching, and that includes his teaching about gender and identity.

Open your heart and invite the Spirit of Jesus to enter. Be filled with the Holy Spirit and be at peace with God and yourself. “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God” (John 1:12). In Christ, there is neither male nor female, only children of God. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).